What Matters in Hollywood Today

7:29 AM 4/24/2018

by Ray Rahman

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What's news: The first reactions to Avengers: Infinity War are here. Plus: Netflix needs more money, Rampage heads to Saudi Arabia and agencies are on a collision course with the Writers Guild. — Ray Rahman

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  • 'Infinity War' Early Buzz

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    Marvel Studios introduced its most ambitious movie yet at the film's premiere last night. Here's what people are saying about it:

    "Overwhelming in the best possible sense." — Christian Blauvelt, BBC Culture.

    "Totally solid (if predictably a bit overstuffed)...." — Dalton Ross, EW.

    "No one in your theater is going to be able to sit quietly through this one. Expect the unexpected." — Jill Pantozzi, io9.

    "INFINITY WAR is basically CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR times 20, except with less hero-on-hero fighting." — Tasha Robinson, The Verge.

    "My second fave @Marvel movie after #BlackPanther.... Kevin Feige is not f-cking around with this one." — Nigel M. Smith, People.

    "INFINITY WAR has like ten legit 'chill down the spine' great moments." — Mike Ryan, UproxxSee more reactions.

    What's happening at CinemaCon...

    Quentin Tarantino and Leonardo DiCaprio talk Manson movie: The film is "probably the closest to Pulp Fiction that I have done," Tarantino said of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, promising that DiCaprio and Brad Pitt would be the most exciting star dynamic since Paul Newman and Robert Redford."

    DiCaprio added: "It’s hard to speak about a film that we haven't done yet, but I’m incredibly excited…to work with Brad Pitt, and I think he’s going to transport us. I’m a huge fan of Singin' in the Rain — movies about Hollywood. As an L.A. native, having read the script, it’s one of the most amazing screenplays." Read more.

    Rampage heads to Saudi Arabia: "They have actually signed off on Rampage," AMC president and CEO Adam Aron said at CinemaCon of the next big film to enter the Saudi market. He added that Avengers: Infinity War went through the censorship process early last week. (A Saudi Arabian release is already listed on IMDb for April 26).

    What's next: Andrew Cripps, president of international distribution at 20th Century Fox, announced at the panel that the animated feature Ferdinand recently went through the censorship process and the hope is that it will be the first Fox film to screen in the country. Full story.

    Gender-integrated Saudi theaters? "As recently as three weeks ago all showings were going to be integrated," said Aron. Then the plans changed to allow for "single male" or "bachelor" screenings and separate "family screenings." "In the end we just opened up with family screenings, only."

    "It'll change again and again as the country tries to get it right," says Aron. "If I can make a prediction — they are going to integrate theaters. That's our working expectation. But it may take some time...." Read more.

    Sony touts diversity: "You have seen already the diversity of the product and the diversity of the audience that we aim at," said Sony motion picture group chairman Tom Rothman. "We are not all superheros all the time. But make no mistake — we are in the global franchise business. We are building on Sony’s biggest year in over a decade...." Read more.

    Jim Gianopulos talks Paramount...

    New era: "The studio is poised for a renaissance," Gianopulos told the L.A. Times in a new interview. "It's had a couple of difficult years structurally, organizationally and in terms of its performance. I think with a new team in place, a new direction and a new strategy, the opportunities are terrific."

    Jerry Bruckheimer chips in: "In the past, it was very difficult to get things done there. Before, it was tough to get answers. Now it seems like the logjam has opened up."

    Bob Bakish: "It's a whole new day at Paramount," said the Viacom CEO, "because this [Gianopulos] is a guy who likes to work with people."

    Atom Tickets inks a deal...

    Competing with Fandango: Atom Tickets has signed an exhibitor partnership with the country's fifth-largest theater chain, Harkins Theatres, as well as eight other chains. The partnerships add 1,000 screens to Atom’s platform, bringing its total reach to over 20,000 screens across North America.

    Imax expands theater footprint...

    New system: With the launch of a new top-of the-digital-line laser projection system, Imax is striking sizable deals with Cineworld/Regal and AMC. Cineworld and Regal will add 26 new Imax theaters and upgrade 29 of its existing Imax projectors in the U.S. and Europe with the new system. AMC will upgrade 87 of its Imax theaters at AMC locations.

    Agencies are on a collision course with the WGA...

    The key issues: Packaging, a half-century old system in which agencies assemble the creative elements of a television series in exchange for receiving fees from the studio rather than commissions from the client; and production, a newer practice in which agencies or their affiliates actually finance or produce a series. The WGA calls both a conflict of interest.

    Agency point of view: A third item that may rankle the agencies is a guild demand that agent commissions not reduce writer compensation below scale. Full story.

    Melissa McCarthy talks gender pay disparity...

    Fighting back: "There were some jobs when I was paid what most [of my co-stars were]. And then people who climbed the ladder with me were suddenly making 15 times what I made," McCarthy said in her Glamour cover story.

    "I was like, 'Wait, wait, wait.' I thought, 'This is based on bullshit. This not based on anything factual to me.' I hated that feeling of not being in control and not being able to do anything about it. I think that feeling is what keeps the fight in me."

    Elsewhere in film...

    Key Oscars dates announced: The ceremony will be broadcast on ABC on Feb. 24, 2019; the annual Governors Awards are Nov. 18; nominations voting will begin Jan. 7, and close a week later, Jan. 14; nominations will be announced Jan. 22; and final voting will start Feb. 12, and close Feb. 19. See more.

    Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle sequel gets a premiere date: It'll hit theaters Christmas 2019.

    A new official full-length Venom trailer is here. And this time it has Venom. Watch.

    Sam Rockwell teams up with Scarlett Johansson and Taika Waititi: The Oscar-winning actor is joining Johansson in Fox Searchlight’s Jojo Rabbit, the unique Nazi Germany satire from Thor: Ragnarok director Waititi.

    Aaron Eckhart's and Courtney Eaton's real-time thriller: The pair will star in Live, a told-in-real-time thriller about a disgraced cop (Eckhart) racing against time to find the police commissioner’s kidnapped daughter (Eaton).

    Apple buys Ed Sheeran doc: The tech giant purchased worldwide rights to the Sheeran documentary Songwriter, which made its North American debut yesterday at Tribeca. The deal is for low- to mid-seven figures, and the film will be released in theaters as well as on Apple platforms.

  • Netflix's Money Question

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    Why does Netflix need more money (again)? The streamer is intending to spend up to $8 billion this year on content and already has racked up $6.5 billion in debt, writes Paul Bond: 

    Explainer: Netflix is still burning lots of cash to create and acquire content, so it is borrowing another $1.5 billion by way of issuing high-yield (better known as "junk") bonds. Monday's disclosure comes just five months since the worldwide leader in subscription streaming issued $1.6 billion in bonds.

    Netflix's thirst for cash is directly related to content costs as the company ramps up production of original movies and shows like Stranger Things and 13 Reasons Why, two of the most popular shows on television.

    Breaking even? Netflix has already acknowledged it could burn cash for the "next several years," even after raising its prices so that it is around $10.99 monthly domestically and $9 a month internationally. Netflix, though, needs to raise its fee to an average of $15 per user, per month before it breaks even on cash flow, says one analyst. Full story.

    Verizon's FiOS report...

    Losing subscribers: Verizon said it lost 22,000 net pay TV subscribers for its Fios video service in the first quarter, compared with a loss of 13,000 in the year-ago period. The subscriber losses were "indicative of the continued cord-cutting trend regarding traditional linear video bundles," Verizon said.

    The Westworld ratings are in...

    Flat: If Westworld is getting a sophomore bump, it may not come from premiere night. The HBO drama's return after a year-plus break brought in a steady 2.1 million viewers.

    With lifts from an encore and streaming plays on services HBO Go and HBO Now, the total climbed to 3 million viewers. That's off 9 percent from the comparable total, 3.3 million viewers, for the series premiere. Read more.

    Fast and the Furious heads to Netflix...

    And gets animated: The streaming giant has handed out a straight-to-series order for an animated show based on The Fast and the Furious franchise. The series is the first to come out of a newly expanded deal that gives the streaming giant a first look at DreamWorks Animation shows based on Universal film properties following Comcast-NBCUniversal's acquisition of the animation studio.

    Plot: The show will revolve around teenager Tony Toretto, who follows in the footsteps of his cousin Dom when he and his friends are recruited by a government agency to infiltrate an elite racing league/nefarious crime organization.

    Tim Hedrick and Bret Haaland executive produce and serve as showrunners; Vin Diesel also will serve as EP. 

    Gretchen Carlson's next move...

    Documentaries: The former Fox News anchor has signed an overall deal with A+E Networks that will see her create and host a series of documentary specials to air on Lifetime.

    Lineup: The first special will be called The Brave With Gretchen Carlson and "will focus on how Gretchen's courageous actions to confront the scourge of sexual harassment in the workplace has served as a catalyst for so many other women to say #MeToo." The other two specials will focus on "inspirational stories of everyday Americans."

    Steph Curry's media play....

    Deal: Sony Pictures Entertainment closed a wide-ranging, multiyear development deal with Curry’s newly formed production company Unanimous Media. The first-look film and TV deal also will extend to opportunities in partnerships, electronics, gaming and virtual reality. Curry’s production headquarters will be located on the Sony Pictures studio lot in Culver City.

    The content: In keeping with Curry’s personal beliefs, film and TV development will focus on faith and family friendly content (which would seem to dovetail nicely with Sony’s Affirm Films label) as well as sports-themed projects.

    Curry: “I’ve been blessed to have this platform and I want to use it to affect the world positively,” Curry said. “Partnering with Sony to share inspiring content with a global audience was a foregone conclusion." Full story.

    Elsewhere in TV...

    Lorne Michaels, Aidy Bryant adapting Lindy West memoir as Hulu comedy: The streamer is teaming with the SNL duo to develop West's memoir Shrill: Notes From a Loud Woman for the small screen. Bryant is set to star in the single-camera comedy, which is in development.

    TBS renewals: Search Party and The Last O.G. have each been handed another season at the network. 

    E! brings back Citizen Rose: The limited docuseries from Rose McGowan will kick off its final three, one-hour installments starting May 17 and is set to pick up where the Jan. 30 premiere event left off.

  • The News Glass Ceiling

    Heidi Gutman/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images; Michael Loccisano/Getty Images; Heidi Gutman/NBC Universal; Larry Busacca/Getty Images; Ida Mae Astute/ABC; John Paul Filo/CBS

    When will a woman run a TV news division? That milestone could happen soon, writes broadcast news analyst Andrew Tyndall — but with a deflating asterisk:

    The president of the news division at each of the three broadcast networks is a man. The president of CNN is a man. Fox News Channel has a woman, Suzanne Scott, as its president of programming, but its chief executive is the archetype of the patriarch — Rupert Murdoch himself.

    Several senior executives who started their careers at the same time as Jeff Zucker, or more recently, would now seem to be primed for a division presidency. In the 1980s, Amy Entelis and Barbara Fedida were both new hires at ABC News. Now, Entelis is a top executive at CNN, where she has forged the network’s thriving original series and film business.... Read more.

    In other news...

    THR Upfronts guide: A handy list of all the festivities for networks and talent agencies at the annual event for ad buyers in New York — including glitzy presentations (ratings spin!) and fancy parties (The Killers!). See here.

    Google delivers strong earnings amid questions of privacy: The company grew revenue to over $31 billion during the first quarter, making Alphabet the first advertising-driven technology company to report earnings amid the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Read more.

    And now for our 17th edition of...

    ↱The Three-Question Interview: a series of short Q&As with interesting executives and personalities. Next up: Joel Church-Cooper, executive producer of IFC's Brockmire, which returns tomorrow for its second season. 

    The new season brings Brockmire to New Orleans. Why'd you guys choose that city? There was a connection for the story we wanted to tell about his deepening alcohol and drug abuse with New Orleans, because it's the one city where you can walk out and be drunk at 10 a.m. and no one judges you. When I describe the show, I saw we're going for "beautiful decay." New Orleans is the most beautiful version of that.

    What about future seasons? Every season will take place in a new setting. That's something that appealed to me as a way to differentiate our show. We don't just build a set and live in that set for five years, we travel with this character as he goes around America. Season three takes place during spring training, so we'll be turning our Brockmire lens to all things Florida.

    Last season, Joe Buck played a key role. Will there be other celebrity broadcasters this year? Not this season, but what's been phenomenal is — you know, we're a tiny show on a small network, but within the world of baseball broadcasting, our ratings are nearly 100 percent. Pretty much every baseball broadcaster has written to the show, talked to Hank [Azaria], said they wanted to be on it. I think it taps into a very primal fear every broadcaster has: the meltdown on the mic. Brockmire is their darkest fear.

    What else we're reading...

    — "Netflix breaks up audience romance with telenovela." David Luhnow and Santiago Perez write: "New competitors force Televisa and other Latin American broadcasters to develop real-life, edgier dramas and crime stories to replace the torrid romances that once enthralled millions." [Wall Street Journal]

    — "Larry King, digital pioneer at 84 on life, work, Trump's phone calls and his newest Emmy nominations." Robert Lloyd interviews the master interviewer. [Los Angeles Times]

    — "After radical revamp, MTV enters upfront with its first ratings momentum in years." Jason Lynch writes: "The ratings for Chris McCarthy’s new slate of MTV’s original shows are up nearly 30 percent over the previous year’s crop, led by Jersey Shore Family Vacation." [Adweek]

    — "Alden Ehrenreich is ready to prove he's worthy of Han Solo." Alex Pappademas profiles the actor: "Ehrenreich is a millennial with the face of an old-school matinee idol who has yet to be thrown a pitch he can’t hit." [Esquire]

    — "The new American Idol: Youth gone wild and an understanding dad." Jon Caramanica writes: "The singing competition, back after a two-year hiatus, is focusing on the fireworks onstage, rather than between the judges. And Lionel Richie is its godfather." [The New York Times]

    — "Jake Tapper and the virtue of taking yourself seriously." Ben Smith writes: "One of the great secrets to his professional success is his all-out defense of his reputation on all fronts at all times." [BuzzFeed]

    — "The dangerous confusion of Trump's celebrity fans." Spencer Kornhaber writes: "When Kanye West and Shania Twain express admiration for the president’s communication style, they forget what’s at stake." [The Atlantic]

    — "Rue St. Denis, longtime outfitter to TV and chic people, is closing." Matthew Schneier writes: "For 25 years, a time capsule of perfectly preserved clothing in Alphabet City." [The New York Times]

    What else we're seeing...

    + "Avengers assemble to show off exclusive Infinity War clip." [Jimmy Kimmel Live!]

    + "Dana Carvey recalls decades-long friendship with George and Barbara Bush." [Conan

    + "Jeffrey Wright has seen a lot of flesh while shooting Westworld." [Late Show]

    What else we're hearing...

    + "Bill Hader and Henry Winkler talk Barry." Two stars, one interview. [The Watch/The Ringer]

    + "Director Chloe Zhao and star Brady Jandreau on The Rider." The pair discuss their new shoestring-budget film. [The Business/KCRW]

    From the archives...

    Today in 1944: THR reviews Double Indemnity. "Billy Wilder has broken open a door hitherto locked to all those connected with the creation of motion pictures.... It is a drama the like of which no other picture in recent memory brings to mind, more than a little reminiscent of the late lamented, excellent French technique." Full review.

    Today's Birthdays: Kelly Clarkson, 36, Damon Lindelof, 45, Cedric the Entertainer, 54, Aidan Gillen, 50, Barbra Streisand, 76, Shirley MacLaine, 84.