Showest is always about showing the evolution of the movie theater experience. Whereas two years ago, the worry was that home theaters would take away the element of going to movies, the advent of 3D in the past two years has completely turned that angle on its ear. Last year’s argument involved the greater thought of how to afford to fit the current theaters to have 3D capabilities but the realization with “Avatar” is that there is always possibility. This motivated a new level of capital involvement because the films opening now do not have enough screens with audiences screaming for their inclusion. The paradox is quite humorous in its overall irony. This jolt of energy reflects in the intent of the studios and the inclement of star involvement which in recent years had been waning. The business is cyclical as ever.
Toy Story 3, Big 10 Award & Disney Opening Day Luncheon For the opening of Showest proper, Disney brought, through the voice of John Lasseter, the next installment in the Toy Story saga. While not directed by him, but rather by his longtime editor, his thought was that he wouldn’t give the films he made to anyone. After accepting the award from NATO for having 10 successful films at Pixar in a row, Lasseter introduced a new 3D short, “Night & Day”, shown for the first time outside the studio which he is says is the most creative piece he believes they have done to date. After this short, which uses Master Image 3D as an alternative to Real D, the producer and director of Toy Story 3 came out. Reflecting an earlier sentiment from John Lasseter that this screening would be in 2D and not 3D because post still had 5 or 6 weeks to go, illicited some questions. They also spoke that there was still temp score and that some shots near the end were not fully completed. Afterwards Disney held a luncheon in the main ballroom lining up the posters for all the Pixar Films side by side while Nathan’s served hotdogs and an 80s band worked the crowd. Buzz and Woody were present for pictures before the day moved on.
Letters from Juliet & Summit Dinner After a one/two punch last fall with “New Moon” and with a newly minted Best Picture Oscar in the form of “Hurt Locker” only a week ago, Summit is occupying the slot once beheld by Dreamworks. The key now is the types of films they present which is always in a general sense across the industry a crap shoot. This year they brought “Letters To Juliet” starring Amanda Seyfried set in Verona Italy which releases in the next couple months. The dinner following highlighted the Italian essence while the intermittance of Budweiser motivated conversation with theater owners on the pros and cons of restaurant integrated theaters and the hope of their return to major metropolitan areas like Los Angeles.
Lionsgate Reception, Kick Ass & Dinner The essence of Lionsgate this year rests in their progression of “Kick-Ass”, their take on the superhero genre. Lionsgate and the distribution team presented the screening to packed house along with a test consumer audience which allowed for a more organic interaction. It was proceeded by a new trailer of “The Expendables”, the new action movie directed by Sylvester Stallone and starring nearly every action star on the planet. The day before at the Bellagio at a private reception, Stallone interacted with the theater owners which is always important in terms of extending goodwill on the basis of the film. Crown shots and Patron Screwdrivers swirled with fondue as guests could take pictures in a green cape where their heads are photoshopped on top of one of the “Kick Ass” characters. The dinner proceeding the screening featured a great performance by all-female string quartet Phat Strad who played everything from “Moon River” to “Live & Let Die” as the character banners of “Kick Ass” flowed behind. With other films coming this year whose titles flew by on the party screen including “Killers” starring Ashton Kutcher and “Buried” (acquired at Sundance) starring Ryan Reynolds, Lionsgate as evidenced by the speech of one of its executives at the screening, is moving to evolve to the next level but realizes that the motion picture division is still what motivates the entire ancillary market whether it be digital home distribution, on demand or home video.
Back-Up Plan & CBS Films Luncheon CBS’ first foray into feature films plays into the aspect of its strengths but also in highlighting from possibilities in its TV archive. The first film “Extraordinary Measures” showcased Harrison Ford and Brendan Fraser but in a structure more suitable to a TV movie. “The Back-Up Plan”, the second outing in more in structuring with a formative genre outlay. This romantic comedy stars Jennifer Lopez in a role both truthful for her but also formative as her comeback vehicle after taking some years off to be with her twins with husband Marc Anthony. Joining her in the film is Alex O’Loughlin who starred in the Joel Silver vampire series “Moonlight” and then the short lived “Three Rivers” both on CBS. It speaks to cross medium interaction which will be key to the introduction of new talent. With Lopez guesting on “How I Met Your Mother” in advance of the film opening, this kind of symbiotic element is in congruence of a new way of reaching audiences.
Post screening at the luncheon, Lopez took the podium, poised and business-like as she has always been, knowing the product that she is selling but also the importance of the business. She indicated her love of the genre and that it was the correct film to return in as she moves back into her movie career after her maternity break. Amy Baer, the head of the film division, seems to understand the aspect of demographic but also the necessary breakdown of different ideas at play.
“Beastly”, CBS’ next film, keys into the teen demographic but understanding that the young population is more adept to needing more stylistic substance as “Twilight” has shown. Stars Vanessa Hudgens and Alex Pettyfer approached on stage but not to be undone by Neil Patrick Harris, who after hosting the Tonys and the Emmys, knows how to control a room. His humor spoke to the fact that Vanessa was hot but that Alex cannot be denied. In seriousness after showing a clip, Harris says that the key is giving this young person’s story the slickness of an ultra Hollywood production. He enjoyed watching it beyond being in it which speaks to his taste.
Aside from announcing the film adaptation of “Gunsmoke” which has not yet set its cast or director, Baer and her crew brought forth Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Billy Bob Thornton straight from the set of “Faster” which is only two weeks into production. They showed a quick clip reel of what has been already shot which looks like a return to hard action form. Johnson spoke that after doing the family films, it was time to return to the genre he loves. He understands the balance needed. Thornton, a little thinner with dark hair, plays to the fact that these types of films are cool but that having the right studio behind you is necessary.
New Visions & Corner Spots Outside the ballrooms and screening theaters in the corridors of the Paris Convention area, the halls are covered with posters and standups providing trailer looks at new material to entice the theater owners. “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” [Fox] tells of the return of Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) as he seemingly draws in the young Shia Laboeuf who is involved with the former magnate’s estranged daughter. The poster is seemingly reminiscent of “Devil’s Advocate”. “Knight & Day” [Fox] by comparison in its trailer has paradoxes that can be effective and interesting depending on how it plays out. There are some feelings of a “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” though Cruise’s performance seems to play a bit broader with his comedy. It is actually refreshing to see him in this form. At one point he places on sunglasses and you see that glint of Maverick. Cameron Diaz is playing more to a bumbling form of physical play but you don’t get to see as much of the character persona in this short look but the action seems less CG motivated and more practical based. “The Other Guys” [Sony] involves a cool teaser where both Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell are vaulting through the sky in slow motion but ends with them in the rigging that they use in the actual production so it is uncertain in terms of what the plot will revolve around. “Takers” [Screen Gems] plays to the dealer incentive and boasts an interesting street cred cast including Paul Walker, Matt Dillon, Idris Elba, Michael Ealy, Hayden Christensen and recording star TI but gives no true indication of the narrative flow.
When in Las Vegas, it is always nice to get away to essential regulars and a new transition. Hidden on the other side of the 15 on Charleston, Frankie’s Tiki Room shelters itself from the knowledge that it loves what it is. The drinks have a verve of possibility from the Mutiny to the Bender Ender. Off Strip spots cater to the locals and understand the vibe. From the ultra grooved decor to the chilled bartender and specifically the sound appropriate set up, the cool spot to be was here. Not to say, that evenings don’t evolve. Always a place of infinite fun, especially when talking back to the girls behind the bar, Hogs & Heifers is a mainstay in downtown. Michelle Dell’s transplanted roughhouse from New York is the original inspiration for Coyote Ugly. Tequila shots go down every which way and balance especially on top of the bar received applause. With Fremont Street reaching South ever so succinctly, The Griffin Bar shows it dark coolness late into the evening. The Irish purmutation of the night requires Irish Car Bombs post Jameson with the pouring reaching generously into the night even as the signal light remained dim.
Warner’s Big Picture 2010 Warner has always been known for pulling out the stops at Showest. In a return to form, many studios understand the power of bringing talent out to meet the exhibitor since it shows an essence of enthusiasm on the part of stars themselves. This of course is buoyed by some script writing of course but the reality is that you can see when Alan Horn, head of Warner, believes in something. He gave the go ahead to “Harry Potter” when he became the top dog at the studio and the franchise has performed with flying colors.
Dan Fellman begins the presentation by bringing his distribution staff on stage. Warner has always been about making sure the right angle hits the screen. It is a very specific process which has become more and more refined over the years. When Horn comes onstage, he speaks of the record breaking year Warner has had and speaks to the success of “The Hangover” as a good example of cooperation between the studios and the exhibs as the longer it played, the more money it made everyone. He also hails the extreme success of 3D and that most of their films will be upgraded to the format to meet demand. This intrinsically painted the structure for “Clash Of The Titans”.
Director Louis Letterier who spoke of being an inherent fan of the original at the age of 8 also made reference of the man who they would all ask their 3D questions to in the form of Sam Worthington, the star of 2009’s monster hit “Avatar”. The 3D footage of “Clash” shown represents a cross section of what was completed in advance of the film’s anticipated release date. Christopher Nolan then came to the stage, professional, cut in a suit that has become his trademark. He explained that he wanted to give a little more of a glimpse into “Inception” without giving too much away so the exhibitors could have some sense of what they would be playing. He summarized the gist with Leonardo DiCaprio being a type of investigator who is able to enter other people’s dreams. The extended footage speaks to the more noir specifics of this perception.
John Patrick King next unveiled a more worldly approach with “Sex & The City 2” speaking of the essence of Morocco and the absence of Kim Catrall as his lovely ladies approached the stage with finesse in the form of Kristin Davis, Cynthia Nixon and exec producer Sarah Jessica Parker. Catrall he speaks was starring in a production in the West End of London and could not be there. Zack Snyder, deep in post on his new “Sucker Punch” movie, presented his “Guardians” animated family picture. He admits that his kids wanted to know why they never saw his films which motivated him into this space at the motivation of Animal Logic whom he had worked with on “300”. This angle for him seems like a natural extension though the edginess needs to be maintained.
“Life As We Know It” brought director Greg Berlanti to stage in a romantic comedy format starring Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel in advance of his next directing duties on “Green Lantern”. Heigl spoke of her love of the genre and doesn’t intend to slow down though Duhamel seemed a little uncomfortable on stage rather letting the material speak for itself. Todd Phillips, who brought “The Hangover” to Showest the year prior, precluded the volleying daredevil antics of Zach Galifinakis and Robert Downey Jr.as they perpetrated their new comedy “Due Date” which keeps the “Road Trip” mentality clear. Zach and Downey’s seemingly easy prankish carefree idealization in no small way helped by the smoked-out coolness of Phillips himself who knows how to keep the ball rolling.
The closer of “Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows” involved some unfinished sequences and shots that showed some of the darkness coming forth buoyed by the fact of Alan Horn’s announcement of the continuation of the 3D proliferation within their biggest franchise. Warner keeps the pace going understanding that the necessary is a nice cross section filled with energy and star power.
Prince Of Persia & Showest Awards Dinner Jerry Bruckheimer, in town to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award, introduced his next big screen outing in the form of “Prince Of Persia”, being released this summer starring Jake Gyllenhaal. Post screening, the press interaction before the awards brought through three of the ensuing recepients. Jerry Bruckheimer spoke of “Pirates 4” which is set to start shooting in June but unsure if the film would be done for 3D. The market, he says, is saturated but what allows him to keep going at this level is his executives. In terms of “Persia”, he describes it as a romantic adventure, albeit one set in the 6th Century and says that is the kind of fun “Pirates” was but clarifying that it is much more plot driven. He also spoke of a new project entitled “Horsehunters” set in Afghanistan which was based on a NY Times article.
Comedy Director Of The Decade Jay Roach, best known for “Austin Powers” and whose “Dinner For Schmucks” comes out later this year, says no one knows what is funny. You tend to find it in the uncertainty. Steve Carrell, for example, he says, has a way of playing off-center delusional characters. In the end it all becomes about casting. Next, Katherine Heigl, recently a mother, came out with a new black hairdo which was seen earlier at the Warner function. She says she didn’t understand before what Showest really was about but now realizes that the theaters are trying to keep it current. She says that the hairdo is in anticipation for a role she is hoping to get off the ground which is Stephanie Plum, the heroine of Janet Evanovich’s “One For The Money” which is part of a franchise of books. She doesn’t she doesn’t feel like her native German/Irish with this hair. She also laughingly talks that she is beating comedies to death but that she loves them. She said also her next film which is in the can (“Life As We Know It” spotlighted at the Warner presentation) allowed her to “learn on the go” for her new role as mother.
With Billy Bush of “Access Hollywood” hosting, the dinner sped by with chicken, salad and asparagus leading the way. Jerry Bruckheimer accepted first speaking of the point that the Lifetime Achievement Award is usually given when somebody is approaching the end of the career. He says though that his mother lived to be 104 so by that standard he has over 48% of his career still ahead of him. He also referenced his roots as a Detroit boy. Jay Roach balanced his perception as Comedy Director Of The Decade saying that “comedy is about exagerration so this is a very funny award”. The young in play were highlighted in the stars of tomorrow in Vanessa Hudgens and Alex Pettyfer, both of CBS Films’ upcoming “Beastly”. Hudgens says that in this business she already feels old while Pettyfer gave his props to CBS Films Head Amy Baer who picked him from obscurity though he did have the lead in Weinstein Company’s “Stormbreakers”.
Amanda Seyfried, who received the Breakthrough Star Of The Year Award for her roles in “Dear John”, “Chloe” and the upcoming “Letters From Juliet” which also screened at Showest, maintained a humble structure calling the award “encouraging”. Katherine Heigl, picking up Female Star Of The Year, seemingly set her dress aflutter as one strap came undone as she was walking up to the stage. Billy Bush then became the designated holder as he tried to keep from breaking into a laugh on-camera. Heigl’s first comment revolved around “Thunder Down Under”, the male revue show in Vegas describing that the advertising couldn’t be any more obvious. Drumroll.
Sam Worthington, honored with Male Star Of The Year, said the honor was “embarassing” but also “gives you a shitload of confidence” adding that he has “the best job in the world” despite starting off as a bread maker in Perth Austrailia. Zach Galifinakis, with a newly forming beard collecting his Comedy Star Of The Year Award, seemingly went off script without even knowing the venue he was in which made his act all the more surreal and applause worthy. His “Hangover” director Todd Phillips, who nabbed Director Of The Year, accepted in perpetuity admitting “I am a moron” while simultaneously telling stories of loving movies in youth particularly encouraging movie theater attendees to buy “Ice Pirates” and see “Star 80”.
The darkness of the desert speaks to the evening even as the wine flows beyond the tables. The last year of Showest at Bally’s showed an increasing return to form after years retained of less stars returning to the confab in the desert. The companies realize that especially with the new advent of 3D, the exhibitors are essential to the formula especially with the riveting performance of “Avatar” in 3D. With its translation into Cinecon at Caesars Palace next year, the new decade will begin in earnest, hopefully with many new surprises and advances ahead.
“The Pixar Touch: The Making Of A Company” (David Price, 2008) gives a very specific filmmaking and technical look into how Pixar came to be with input from some of the people involved and a dizzying array of research. While few people know of its origin story, the recent tribulations and eventual new deal with the Disney company brought its inner workings to the forefront. Having been around and doing interviews personally for Pixar films “Toy Story 2”, “Finding Nemo”, “The Incredibles”, “Cars” and “Monster Inc.” including traveling to Pixar in Emeryville, I have been able to see some of the essence of its insides and get the general vibe which is stellar. Recently up to a few days ago, the TV show has done interviews with “Ratatouille” and “Up” (which is opening this year’s Cannes Film Festival).
Having talked before to John Lasseter who recently took complete control as Creative Director of Disney Feature Animation, the direction now is great and allows the company both as Pixar and Disney to take more risks. Now whether or not it will reach the heights of Pixar’s former success remains to be seen. Pixar has made all of this possible. One of my recent great professional memories was when I was invited up for the “Finding Nemo” TV interviews at Pixar where we were allowed to roam supervised and seeing some of the creative nooks first hand.
When we went down to see the film in Pixar’s screening room, the person shaking hands near the opening of the room was none other than Steve Jobs who had his scruffy beard but was just smiling and shaking hands. I didn’t realize the gravity of who I was speaking to at the time but now the power of that moment hits me. This was in 2003 before the IPod revolution had become as full force as it is right now.
Seeing the purely digital element of “Nemo” in their theater is about as pure as you can come to seeing a film with Walt Disney at that level. So that said, I have a great respect and love for Pixar since I have been in the shadow watching first hand for most of their full fledged career. And, as shown as Siggraph in LA last year when Lasseter introduced one of his favorite Japanese artists who did a hand drawn abstract narrative feature, I understand the inspiration of what drives the company, especially Lasseter.
And it is becoming more prevalent at the high commercial level. At the inset at Showest this year, Disney introduced a fully 3D reel which included “Toy Story 1 & 2” in 3D with “Toy Story 3 being made exclusively in 3D. “Tron 2” is now coming in 3D which in no small part is probably because Lasseter pushed it through. The level of animation seen in that is a whole other direction and was the first time the test footage was ever shown in 3D. “The Princess & The Frog” which we saw some rough 2D animation from starts the ball rolling again from hand drawn again which Lasseter believes is always necessary and an inspiration.
I wanted to give that insight because, even with that background, Price goes much deeper. What I really like about this book is how we see the beginnings of the computer systems with Ed Catmull and Alvy Ray Smith who first started creating the computers that would make this all possible. John Lasseter brought the animator spirit that would rocket Pixar but Catmull and Smith began the research in Long Island that initialized it back in the late 70s. A forgotten billionaire who loved the idea of computer animation is the one who started the train in terms of money by buying astronomically priced image buffers for the team to try to make this kind of animation before it or even the image graphics we take for granted on our Mac was even possible. This was the real genesis of this revolution. But without this man willing to put his money where his mouth is, Pixar would not exist. Same thing with George Lucas although his reasons sound more purely self serving in terms of creating Edit Droid and the like. But that said, Lucas let the guys including a just fired Disney animator called Lasseter who tooled around in perpetuity, really work out the kinks.
These years weren’t easy but they did it, it seemed, for the love of the work. Jobs came into play later and one day there will be an epic film to detail his rise, fall and rise again. The guy is a brilliant enigma. When Jobs finally got to the point of combustion with Pixar, it was just a matter of money and making the right deal. And while the venture at times was not practical, Jobs, despite some rearrangement, kept it going. Pixar works because it was a collection of people. The purity of the earlier years described in the book seems almost like a frat or film school because that is really what it was. But instead of purely creatives you combined the scientist and engineers which made the interaction different. The fact that, at Lucasfilm, it was Catmull’s team made the Genesis sequence in “Star Trek II: Wrath Of Khan”, is simply legendary and revelatory. The making of the early short films and Price’s inclusion of the stories of staying up all night in the halls of a decrepit office light years away from their current luxury in Emeryville really gives perspective to this journey.
From “Toy Story” on, the aspect and politics take over which itself is a hard battle but one I had been more aware of. However, with ones with perspective on these industry travails, it is seems very close to the truth that has been spoken about. Price’s gift here is getting down to the basic elements without sugar coating the facts and creating bias. He is very good at this and explains both the computer technical elements at enough of an intermediate level that most fairly comprehending college level freshman or younger who are interested in this arena or filmmaking can generally can get the gist of the progression. I mean two year old kids know how to use iPhones now.
This book is exceptionally concise, intelligent and precise in assimilating its information and quoting its sources. The epilogue for this edition includes a new 2009 foreword which is more op-ed than actual facts but is meant to give a perspective on recent developments but without specific interview based facts. Still a great book end to end that you do not want to put down if you are interested in the birth of computer animation and the uphill battle to assimilate this culture into the zeitgeist. Out of 5, I give it a 4.