What Matters in Hollywood Today

7:12 AM 11/1/2017

by Ray Rahman

What's news: Six women, including actresses Olivia Munn and Natasha Henstridge, accuse director Brett Ratner of sexual harassment or misconduct, while another woman goes public with her own sexual harassment claim against Dustin Hoffman. Plus: Our new cover story, featuring a roundtable of top-ranking women in Hollywood discussing the industry's harassment problem. — Ray Rahman

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On the cover: As the industry reels from the Harvey Weinstein scandal, Kim Masters met with top-ranking producers, showrunners and execs — Sue Naegle, Krista Vernoff, Terry Press, Stephanie Allain and Mara Brock Akil — for a no-B.S. brainstorm on anger, survival and, most important, solutions: 

"It's about time." That was Mara Brock Akil's initial reaction as devastating tales of sexual harassment and assault blanketed the media in the weeks after allegations against Harvey Weinstein first surfaced. But then Akil registered a series of more nuanced reflections on power, gender, race and value — ideas that became the meat of a raw and long-overdue conversation among five high-ranking Hollywood women: Sue Naegle, who held top roles at United Talent Agency and HBO before segueing into a producer/executive role at Annapurna Pictures; Grey's Anatomy showrunner Krista Vernoff; CBS Films chief Terry Press; producer Stephanie Allain (2014's Beyond the Lights); and Akil, a producer who counts The Game and Girlfriends among her credits.

Gathered in Hollywood on a Saturday in late October, the women ping-ponged between passion and frustration as they discussed everything from the industry's obsession with "fuckability" to why so many women on TV are corpses. "I'm really excited that we're having this conversation," says Vernoff. "Let's do the next one with men at the table." Full cover story.

  • Hotel Stories

    Illustration by Skip Sterling

    A former PR director of The Peninsula Beverly Hills reveals to Chris Gardner the protocol of handling top executives — including Harvey Weinstein, who was a frequent guest — and a natural complicity to protect and keep VIP visitors: 

    People have asked me, "Did you know?" I knew he was a bully. If his room service order was delayed, he would flip over the tray. Mr. Weinstein was known for screaming and for walking into the restaurant and demanding to know why his table wasn't ready, even if he had not made a reservation or canceled his reservation. He was high maintenance, but most top executives are. That behavior was common. But not so much that you would turn away the business. I don't know that anyone would ever have turned that business away.

    A woman would come to see Mr. Weinstein, and it would be confirmed if that is what he wanted, and she was then sent to his suite. I don't think there were women who hesitated that I knew of, but it was likely that they expected the meeting to take place in the foyer of a suite or in the office of a villa.

    It wasn't at all unusual to see a high-level entertainment executive stay at the hotel for two weeks, and during that time, special guests who were clearly not the wife would join him. After entertaining those "guests" for several days, they would disappear, and halfway through the week, the wife, nanny and kids joined from New York. Everyone would know. Full story.

    Elsewhere...

    + "Dustin Hoffman sexually harassed me when I was 17." When Anna Graham Hunter interned on the set of Death of a Salesman in 1985, the 17-year-old couldn't believe what happened to her. Now, decades later, she's ready to go public with her story.

    Hoffman statement: "I have the utmost respect for women and feel terrible that anything I might have done could have put her in an uncomfortable situation. I am sorry. It is not reflective of who I am."

    + Six women, including Olivia Munn, accuse Brett Ratner of harassment or misconduct. The high-profile director has been accused of sexual assault or harassment by six women, including actresses Olivia Munn and Natasha Henstridge, who detailed their experiences with Ratner to the Los Angeles Times. Henstridge says that Ratner forced her to perform oral sex in his New York apartment when she was 19. Ratner's attorney Martin Singer dismissed all of the claims. 

    + The Beverly Hills Police Department are investigating complaints on Harvey Weinstein and James Toback. "These cases are under investigation and no further information will be released at this time," the BHPD said in a statement. This comes on top of the NYPD and LAPD's investigations into Weinstein. 

    + The Weinstein Company has officially scrubbed the November release of The Current War. Polaroid, a Dimension Films project scheduled to open Nov. 22, has also been pulled from the calendar, meaning TWC won't release any more movies this year as it fights to survive amid the Harvey scandal.  

    + Andy Dick was fired from a second movie over sexual misconduct claims. Just hours after arriving to the first day of filming for the horror-comedy Vampire Dad, the actor was escorted off the set due to "multiple, flagrant acts of improper conduct and inappropriate contact with several crew members." This echoes his earlier reported firing from Raising Buchanan

    + Panic hits Hollywood and media elite. Near-daily disclosures of misconduct from N.Y. and L.A. men — as outlined in a since-deleted spreadsheet of "Shitty Media Men" — have blanketed the landscape with a palpable unease. Said one network PR chief: "We all wake up thinking, 'Who's next?'"

    + NPR top editor hit with allegations. NPR senior vice president of news Michael Oreskes was placed on leave yesterday after two women came forward and accused him of harassment. The alleged incidents took place in the late 1990s, when Oreskes was Washington bureau chief for The New York Times.

    Elsewhere in film...

    Corey Hawkins joins Adam Driver in Spike Lee's Black Klansman. The actor will play civil-rights activist Stokely Carmichael in the movie, which tells the true story of a black undercover detective who in 1978 joined his local chapter of the Klan to gather intelligence. Lee is co-writing the script and directing, with Get Out team Jordan Peele and Jason Blum serving as producers. Topher Grace will be in the movie as well.  

    Elizabeth Banks, Margot Robbie working on The Paper Bag Princess. Banks and Robbie plan to adapt the female-empowerment children's book into a feature, with Banks attached to direct and both of them set to produce. The idea is for Robbie to star in it as well, though that'll depend on script and scheduling, among other factors. 

    Tom Hanks sci-fi project Bios goes to Amblin Entertainment. The Steven Spielberg company has picked up the project, starring Hanks as the last man on Earth. A Hanks and Spielberg collaboration? I guess we'll give it a shot. 

    ^Oscar predictions: Who's up? Who's down? Who's out (other than The Current War)? Scott Feinberg updates the standings as the race heads into November. Some leading contenders: Frances McDormand (Best Actress for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), Jordan Peele (Best Original Screenplay for Get Out), and Dunkirk (Best Picture). See the Feinberg Forecast.

    Review: A Bad Moms Christmas. It's November, which means the War on Christmas has officially begun. The first salvo comes from Bad Moms, writes Jon Frosch: "A Bad Moms Christmas is louder, busier and more pandering than the original — an exhausting spectacle of skilled performers gamely mugging their way through a cash grab. You may be intermittently entertained; you’ll also likely leave feeling as pummeled and pooped as the burnt-out mothers at the movie’s center." Read more.

    Bond Studio MGM forms key alliance with Megan Ellison's Annapurna. Claiming more control over its future, MGM is launching a joint distribution venture with Megan Ellison's Annapurna Pictures in the U.S. The key partnership puts MGM back into the distribution business, versus having to rely on third-party studios to handle its movies. 

    + Neither company is saying yet whether the next James Bond installment — set for release in summer 2019 — is part of the pact, but it would make for an easy solution. 

    Heather Graham opens up about her directorial debut Half Magic. The actress also wrote the film, a comedy about female empowerment in which Graham stars as a member of a sisterhood (with Molly Shannon, Stephanie Beatriz and Angela Kinsey) that comes together to do battle against male dominance and chauvinism. Q&A.

  • Amazon Reboots

    Illustration by: Travis Millard

    The streaming giant's delay in addressing problems — some of which it had known about for months, if not years — has left it to contend with some bad press and a major rebuilding project, Kim Masters writes:

    There's been quite a housecleaning at Amazon Studios in recent weeks. Content chief Roy Price was ushered out Oct. 17 following allegations that he had harassed the executive producer of The Man in the High Castle. Joe Lewis, the head of original series, soon followed, as did reality chief Conrad Riggs.

    When outsiders with big money like Amazon venture into Hollywood, the community finds a way to take advantage. And it's easy to make a bad choice when newcomers look to hire. Many in the industry can spin a good yarn about their key role in making hit movies or shows, but those tales don't always withstand scrutiny. Only real insiders can see behind the curtain.

    Price and some of his top execs had less experience than those typically charged with running a major studio. How did this happen? Several sources say the Seattle-based online giant's overall approach to hiring, which involves an extensive interview process known as "the Loop" as well as a basic background check, is not designed for Hollywood. "It's all about how you perform in interviews as opposed to doing a deep dive," says one person with firsthand knowledge of the process. That helps explain, for example, why Lewis was hired in 2013 despite having flamed out at two of his previous jobs. Full story.

    Elsewhere in TV...

    The Kevin Spacey fallout continues. Netflix had already announced that the next House of Cards season would be its last, but now they're suspending production of the show indefinitely in order to "review the current situation and to address any concerns of our cast and crew." Elsewhere, MasterClass canceled an online acting course taught by Spacey. And NBC's This Is Us removed a reference to the actor from last night's episode — the scene originally involved one of the show's main characters being invited to a cast party for a Spacey movie.

    + Jeremy Piven: CBS is "looking into" sexual harassment allegations against its Wisdom of the Crowd star. In a series of tweets Tuesday, actress Ariane Bellamar alleged that the actor groped her on the set of HBO’s Entourage. Piven's current TV home CBS said in a statement, “We are aware of the media reports and are looking into the matter." HBO also released a statement saying they were unaware of the alleged incident.

    + Hawaii Five-0: CBS was also hit with a lawsuit from a Five-0 locations assistant who says Jake Downer, a scout for the series, "acted aggressively, unprofessionally, offensively, abusively and/or in a threatening manner." She also claims his father, Five-0 executive producer Jeffrey Downer, retaliated against her.  

    + The Affair: Showtime is fighting back against a lawsuit from a body double hired for The Affair who claims she was harassed and discriminated against.

    ► Bad Boys spinoff starring Gabrielle Union lands at NBC. Based on the Will Smith-Martin Lawrence franchise, the show will find Union reprising her role from the movies: Syd Burnett, now an LAPD detective paired with a new partner. NBC has given the project a pilot production commitment; Brandon Sonnier and Brandon Margolis (both of The Blacklist) will write, while Jerry Bruckheimer, Jeff Gaspin, and Union are among the list of exec-producers.

    Dismal TV diversity numbers. A study from Jose Antonio Vargas' Define American found that half of Latino immigrant characters on TV are portrayed as criminals. A separate report, from Color of Change, revealed that just 4.8 percent of TV writers are black.

    Paul Feig, Kim Rosenstock developing Girl Code at Freeform. After finding success with The Bold Type, Freeform is pursuing another women-in-the-workplace series: Girl Code, a comedy from Feig and Rosenstock (Glow) about an anti-social tech CEO and an outspoken feminist warrior who team up for a groundbreaking, all-women tech incubator.

    Fox News employees tell CNN they hate Fox News. Some of them, at least — according to an Oliver Darcy report, multiple people from inside the network have been "embarrassed and humiliated" by their employer's coverage of the latest Russia investigation developments. A sample quote from one Fox News personality: "I want to quit."

    + But is it just Fox News? From a New York Times media analysis: "The collective coverage from The Wall Street Journal editorial page, The New York Post and Fox News — not including the straight-ahead coverage by the likes of Shepard Smith and Bret Baier — was testament to the Murdoch empire’s ability to make its own journalistic weather."

    ^The Good Doctor is Monday's best. A true force to be reckoned with, the Freddie Highmore medical drama upped its bragging rights on Monday night and topped all other broadcast series (including NBC's reliable The Voice) across demos. Since debuting in September, the freshman entry has quickly become one of the most-watched shows on television.  

    Marvel's New Warriors won't air on Freeform. Marvel’s highly anticipated half-hour scripted comedy will no longer air on the Disney-owned cable network. Instead, sources say Marvel will shop the live-action show — which stars Baby Daddy grad Derek Theler as Mister Immortal and This Is Us' Milana Vayntrub as fan-favorite Squirrel Girl — to other outlets.

    + The pilot is said to have tested through the roof, catching the attention of high-level Disney executives. Insiders note that Freeform couldn't find a slot for the show next year as it had originally intended — so they gave the series back to Marvel. 

    HBO nabs Kit Harington miniseries Gunpowder. The pay cabler re-ups on their Game of Thrones star by acquiring his latest TV project, a (very) BBC production that depicts the 17th-century events that led to the Gunpowder Plot and Guy Fawkes Day. Harington stars as Robert Catesby, a key figure in the true-story drama who also happens to be one of Harington's ancestors. 

    The three-part series, which also stars Liv Tyler and Mark Gatiss, will air on HBO Dec. 18-20. The show is already out in the U.K., where The Guardian noted that many viewers found some scenes "unnecessarily gruesome and brutal." 

    Stranger Things 2: Bob is the new Barb. The internet has developed full-on Bob-mania. In a piece called "We Need to Talk About Bob," The Ringer declared the Sean Astin-played character "a surprising beacon of lovable goodness." Buzzfeed, ever more casual, ran with "We Gotta Talk About Bob" and branded the man a superhero. A Los Angeles Times headline asked, "What About Bob?" And Vulture published "A Salute to Bob Newby," calling him "dad jeans in human form" (a good thing). Astin has turned in plenty of fan-favorite performances before, but it looks like his latest role has given him a whole new legacy to look after.

    + Did you like the Stranger Things 2 aftershow? Netflix's Ted Sarandos says he's open to doing more: "I think [it'd work for] shows like The OA that are super layered, where people can really tear apart what they think they just saw. And Black Mirror would be fun, too."

    Casting Notes: Diane Lane heads to Matthew Weiner's Amazon show The Romanoffs; she'll guest star in the anthology series. Caitlin FitzGerald, Paul Sparks and Tom Sturridge board Starz's Sweetbitter adaptation.  

  • Why Cage Is Everywhere

    Getty Images

    Nicolas Cage’s diminishing value hasn't stopped foreign distributors from betting on the actor. In an indie film world where nothing is certain, he remains dependable, Scott Roxborough and Alex Ritman write: 

    Like clockwork, a new Cage action-thriller was announced a week before the American Film Market's Nov. 1 opening — A Score to Settle, from the Highland Film Group.

    "When you have a Cage film, you know you can sell it. It has value in all the windows — theatrical, VOD, international," says The Exchange CEO Brian O'Shea, who is presenting Cage-starring Primal at AFM. "It's one of the few constants in our business."

    Indeed, a sample of projects announced since last year: Mandy, starring Cage as a man hunting the religious sect that killed his lover; #211, as a cop trying to stop a bank heist; Looking Glass, as a husband who buys a haunted desert motel; and Mom and Dad, as a father who violently turns against his kids.

    "Worst case, you can get $500,000 for TV rights. I could buy now for $300,000 and make money," says Leeding Media founder David U. Lee, who released 2011's Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance in China, where he thinks Cage has appeared in more theatrically released films than any other Western actor. Full story.

    + The AFM Hot List: From the Nicole Kidman-starring Destroyer to Chiwetel Ejiofor's directorial debut, these 14 films are making a splash at Santa Monica's annual film bazaar. 

    What else we're reading...

    — Mark Halperin's Game Change partner says he was unaware. Michael Grynbaum writes: "For the political journalists Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, work on the third installment of their popular Game Change book series — set to be an insiders’ account of the final two months of the 2016 presidential race — came to an abrupt halt last Wednesday at around 10 a.m." [New York Times]

    — Caleb Landry Jones is becoming Hollywood's go-to oddball. Kyle Buchanan writes: "The actor is just as adept at playing unhinged bullies as he is at playing their victims." [Vulture]

    — With Ball in the Family, Facebook Watch finds a new use: counter-programming. Jason Parham writes: "The pursuit of self-actualization is a baroque endeavor on the Facebook Watch show that unfurls the lives of NBA rookie Lonzo Ball, his brothers, and their incendiary father, LaVar." [Wired]

    — J-Rod! Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez on love, beauty, and redemption. Bethany McLean writes: "Despite the surreal fame — and baggage — carried by Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez, their relationship makes perfect sense. Both started from modest backgrounds, hit the big time fast, and had to battle their own demons to survive." [Vanity Fair]

    — The Star. Jess Cagle interviews Julia Roberts on raising teenagers, avoiding the tabloids, and putting the best in Western.  [InStyle]

    What else we're seeing...

    + "Kristen Bell and Dave Grohl perform Frozen & Metallica mashup."  [Jimmy Kimmel Live!]

    + "Chris Matthews says Trump can't fire Mueller." [Late Show]

    Today's Birthdays: JoJo Fletcher, 27, Logan Marshall-Green, 41, Toni Collette, 45, Jenny McCarthy, 45, Tim Cook, 57, Lyle Lovett, 60. 

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