Extra! Extra! Perhaps you’ve read Page Six’s account of young Tyler Nelson, the “big-mouthed extra” who may have ended his career thanks to an ill-considered decision to blab plot details about the upcoming Indiana Jones movie.
Nelson, cast as a dancing Russian soldier, talked to the Edmond Sun in Oklahoma despite having signed a nondisclosure agreement. In response, director Steven Spielberg’s spokesman is ominously quoted as saying: “Who knows whether that particular person will ever work in this town again?”
We’re told that the forces of George Lucas took the lead in trying to stuff the genie back into the bottle, getting the article pulled off the Web and stripping links from sites like Ain’t It Cool News. Doing in the version on Page Six might be beyond even the powers of Lucas and Spielberg combined, which raises interesting questions about the laws that govern the media universe.
We’re not sure of the provenance of this little piece of art above—it came in through the virtual transom—but we thought we’d share it anyway. If its creator wants to take a bow, let us know.
Sept. 27: Update! This came in over the virtual transom:
Hi, my name is Tom Kilbourne and a friend of mine made me aware that a picture I photoshopped of Tyler Nelson, the kid who ratted out the plot of Indy 4, appeared in your article titled “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Idiocy.” I showed it to him, he sent it to a friend and it somehow made it over to you. I saw the link at the bottom to get credit for the picture, and I guess I’d like to take a bow. Thanks for posting it!
Sept. 25, 2007
Words words words: Some quotes have a way of sticking in people’s minds for a long time. In Hollywoodland, one of the best was Michael Eisner’s famous comment about Jeffrey Katzenberg: “I hate the little midget.” That was from 1999, and it took litigation to smoke it out. Given the level of caution in the business when it comes to speaking on the record, we don’t get winners like that too often.
But now Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman has come up with one for the ages. At a Goldman Sachs media conference last week, he said that the departure of DreamWorks’ Steven Spielberg and David Geffen would be “completely immaterial” to the company’s financial outlook. In case you’re not a lawyer, what Dauman meant by that is that Viacom’s relationship with DreamWorks is deader than a herring in cream sauce. What will happen next has the town riveted.
So far, Dauman (or, should we say, Sumner Redstone, for whom Dauman speaks) is not winning many points for his bold statement. It is one thing to throw Tom Cruise out on his boodle. Steven Spielberg is a whole different bag of tricks.
We took a little poll of current and former studio heads and top-level Viacom types. All agreed that Dauman’s words—though true—were ill-chosen. “It’s so awkwardly put,” says a source. “It’s probably correct from a legal point of view because the movie company is such a small portion of the total number. So he’s probably correct technically but it’s just silly. I think [Spielberg] is pretty material.”
Just looking at the studio, of course, DreamWorks is exceedingly material. Paramount dashed across the $1 billion mark in box-office grosses in record time this year, and the vast majority of that money came from DreamWorks movies. “The immaterial number is the number that Paramount produced,” says a studio veteran. He means from movies like Hot Rod and Stardust and Freedom Writers.
Most concurred that Dauman, having given up on the DreamWorks relationship, was trying to do Wall Street damage control. In the process, says one current studio boss, Dauman inflicted a great deal of damage on its film studio. “It hurts them in ways they haven’t felt yet,” he says. After what’s happened to Viacom talent—executive and creative, from Tom Freston to Tom Cruise—this observer continues, “You have to say, what reason is there to be there?”
To which a Paramount source responds: “Paramount’s been around for 100 years. It’ll be around for 100. We’ll do another six movies a year [to replace those provided by DreamWorks].” This executive adds that DreamWorks would have to leave behind all its projects in development, so some of those six movies will come from the DreamWorks larder. And there you have the Viacom party line.
But it’s hardly so simple. Considering how strongly DreamWorks has been batting lately, a few of those extra six movies will have to do a lot better than anything Paramount has generated in recent memory. Still, our insider is not fazed. “As long as you have a checkbook,” he says, “the talent is going to come.”
As for DreamWorks, our source notes that Geffen and Spielberg have been bitching about Paramount from the start, and that hasn’t endeared them to Dauman (i.e., Redstone). “How many times can you read that people are unhappy?” he asks.
It is useful to remember that when Paramount outbid Universal for DreamWorks, the price seemed pretty rich. DreamWorks had been through a turn in the barrel, and Geffen needed to get a deal done to extricate investor Paul Allen. But then the DreamWorks world changed, transformed by Transformers, among other hits. (DreamWorks had a great year but the most important of its hits was Transformers, because it’s a franchise.)
According to one up-close Geffen and Spielberg observer, that great deal with Paramount began to lose some of its luster: “David Geffen—who believes he is and may be the greatest deal-maker of all time—believes he left $1 billion on the table.”
Meanwhile, Spielberg will really dislike being called immaterial. “With Steven Spielberg, it’s about being made to feel you’re the most special person in the world,” says this source. And in Hollywood, says a top-level Viacom veteran, he is the most special person in the world—so special that no executive should ever suggest that losing him would be immaterial. “You don’t say it to Spielberg,” he says. “He’s not talent—he’s God.”
DreamWorks may be high-maintenance, but most in our little poll felt it was clear that the burden was on Paramount and Viacom to make what should have been a successful marriage work. That’s why when Paramount studio chief Brad Grey says publicly that life will go on without Spielberg and Geffen, a competitor is left shaking his head. “Why not say, ‘Thank God these guys are here’?” he asks. “It’s an extraordinary thing. I’m amazed by the simplicity of what it should have been and how hard they all made it.”
Which leads us at last to what comes next—and here’s the answer: No one knows. The consensus is that only one thing could salvage the situation at Paramount. “If Sumner Redstone dies, that could change things,” says a studio chief.
Meanwhile, Brad Grey—having failed to do anything much to brag about at Paramount other than buying DreamWorks—will probably get some time to collect himself. Next year’s J.J. Abrams-directed Star Trek and (oh, the irony) Spielberg-directed Indiana Jones should buy him breathing room. After that, as one of our ex-studio chiefs puts it—he’s “sitting there all naked.”
Meanwhile, the DreamWorks team finds a new home. Most observers think Ron Meyer at Universal would love to have Spielberg back, which would be most convenient for Spielberg since he’s never actually left the lot. But there are questions. GE wouldn’t make the DreamWorks deal in the first place. Will that change now, when there is speculation that GE will try to sell NBC Universal after the Olympics next year?
Also, one has to wonder what Geffen will demand. The DreamWorks team would have no library, no projects to bring along. That might seem to simplify things. But that doesn’t mean Geffen won’t demand a huge pile of money for what is, in effect, a first-look deal with Spielberg. “What are you buying?” asks one in-the-loop source. “You’re buying Steven and Stacey Snider—and you don’t get a discount. I’m not sure what David brings you.” (Other than a formidable adversary if you piss him off.)
No doubt the folks at GE and Universal would be happiest if Geffen and Spielberg tap a few bucks out of Wall Street before they come knocking. (Link)
Sept. 19, 2007
Game On: As the fall TV season kicks off, it looks like the big networks may have more problems than the NFL. They have issues with big-budget programs that seem to be slipping off the rails. The cost of these shows, says one top network executive, is “out of control. It is craziness.”
It has been widely rumored that NBC is having fits with Bionic Woman, which is over its target cost with about five episodes shot. The industry is also waiting for CBS to fail with its expensive, quirky musical Viva Laughlin. Meanwhile, with the controversial reality show Kid Nation premiering tonight, CBS has locked its lips about which advertisers might dare to sell their wares in the first episode. Clearly some have backed off, which is the kiss of death unless the first airing draws a big audience, and advertisers, believing that the controversy will die down, return to the fold. (One would suppose that the first episode has been thoroughly vetted so that potentially distressing material is kept to a minimum, which makes one wonder whether it retains any entertainment value.)
ABC also has problems. We already reported that Warner Bros. bumped Barry Sonnenfeld off of directing further episodes of ABC’s Pushing Daisies because he went so far over budget on the first (post-pilot) episode. Bear in mind that Warner foots a lot of the bill and gets murdered when/if a costly show fails. Now sources tell us that hot-tempered ABC programming chief Steve McPherson thinks Warner is hurting one of the network’s best hopes for the season, and he’s furious at steps that Warner has taken to cut costs. An ABC source confirms that, saying, “You can’t develop Lost and say we want to shoot it for $2.5 million.”
On the other hand, anyone who’s seen the Pushing Daisies pilot has to wonder: How long can the studio keep up that expensive look? The same question applies to the premise—guy touches dead people, they come back to life; he touches them again, and they die permanently. The girl of his dreams dies. So, guy loses girl, guy touches girl, guy can never touch girl again.
It seems that the ABC money problem has had some ripple effects. A CBS source confirms that Warner has applied its management technique to its new good-guy vampire show, Moonlight. The mandate is to shoot less expensively, which means fewer exterior shots that might include, you know, moonlight.
Several sources say Warner TV president Peter Roth is under a great deal of pressure, not just because of expensive shows but thanks to a stunningly pricey deal with J.J. Abrams that has yet to bear fruit. A well-placed network executive says the deal guarantees the prolific Abrams a staggering $10 million a year. But Abrams is busy popping out movies for Paramount—focusing at the moment on a new Star Trek film that “is going to become his life” until it opens in December 2008, according to a studio source.
Abrams made news in July 2006 with his great big mama of a deal—movies at Paramount, television at Warner. But insane seems to be very popular word when top entertainment executives are polled about it—and it’s not just sour grapes. “Somebody had to get hurt,” says one. At this point, it doesn’t appear to be Paramount.
We’re told that the networks have been put on alert to expect a chance to bid on a project bearing the J.J. Abrams label soon. But check the list of ingredients carefully. Just how much Abrams is required for that label to be applied is not clear.
Well—some can still fiddle while Rome burns. We leave you with the image of NBC Entertainment co-chairman Ben Silverman’s pre-Emmy party last Friday, which started at about 11 p.m. and featured scantily clad ladies and a caged tiger. We’re not sure if the party was fun; the invitation, which stipulated that formal attire was required, also promised, “no media admitted.” Silverman threw the bash at a Laurel Canyon mansion with DJ Brent Bolthouse, who—as the folks at GE will be pleased to hear—”virtually invented the Hollywood nightlife scene we know today.” For the record, NBC didn’t sponsor or pay for the good times.
No wonder Silverman’s ring tone is “This Is Why I’m Hot.” (Link)