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Q: Who Runs TV?

A: Showrunners.

Showrunners are the writer-producers who come up with the concept for a TV show, create a pilot, sell it to the network, staff and cast it, cheerlead it through pick-up and then guide the increasingly complex plot lines from season to season. It’s a tough job. Only an elite few are trusted by the networks to do that job, and, at this time of year, they’re busy bringing their Fall 2013 ideas to the negotiating table.

The Hollywood Reporter’s latest issue is dedicated to showrunners and all aspects of what they do with their 5th annual list of the Top TV Showrunners.

THR’s Top 50 Showrunners 2012TV’s most influential writer-producers come clean about the credits they’d like scrubbed from their résumés, their most absurd notes from execs, their television mentors and the ways they cure writer’s block.

 

The Blame Game: Violence at the Movies #batman

As the world’s media try to make sense of last night’s massacre at a movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado, the moral panic begins.

This is a tragedy that has no single cause. Wherever the finger of blame is pointed, the fact remains that 12 innocent people died a shocking death, 50 more were injured, and countless family members and friends will suffer pain and loss. Unfortunately, there was probably no easy way of preventing these murders. Senseless acts of violence are by their very nature unpredictable, without rhyme or reason. We’ve yet to know what caused suspect James Holmes to plan and carry out his attack or if he had a specific target in mind. All we know is that he decided to kill, and with his choice of venue and time, decided to do it in a theatrical, ostentatious way that would link him forever to all the glamour and hype surrounding the release of 2012’s summer box office behemoth, The Dark Knight Rises.

Somehow, Holmes wanted his act of violence to blur and mesh with the violent entertainment on screen, hence his choice of a Bane-esque costume and weapons, and the fight scene within the movie that triggered the launch of his first gas canister. He destroyed the fourth wall, the barrier that’s meant to separate spectator from spectacle, to divide fiction from action. This is a truly disturbing act by an individual. It’s also disturbing on a societal level. It has legal, cultural and moral ramifications that will induce much hand-wringing in the press, social media, and water cooler discourse over the next few weeks. It raises a lot of serious questions that no one will be able to answer about how, as a civilization, violence is our first resort, for thrills, for problem-solving, for driving political agendas.

Occurrence and Signification

The first stage of the moral panic is already well under way. The Dark Knight Rises was already a huge news story, the most-anticipated movie release of 2012. It had been generating the usual hype-related headlines, about budgets, stars, special effects, midnight screenings selling out with lines around the block in some of the worst summer weather North American has ever experienced, effectively a re-run of The Avengers and Hunger Games copy from earlier this year. However, over last weekend, a new kind of story emerged. Things got ugly in the comments section of negative reviews of TDKR. Abuse was hurled at critics who expressed their personal opinion that there were flaws in the movie. Rotten Tomatoes editor, Matt Atchity, took the unusual step of disabling comments to prevent any more rabid fanboy mouth-frothing but the #hate tag had already been attached to the TDKR meta-narrative. The violence of the comments suggested there was an element of hooliganism within the passionate fans who would show up for the midnight screenings – a tiny minority of the tens of thousands who bought tickets, but a significant element nonetheless.

Enter Holmes, who probably hadn’t seen the whole movie before masterminding his attack and cannot be accused of ‘copy-cat violence’ of the type that, for instance, followed in the wake of Natural Born Killers. He does, however, appear to have absorbed crucial information from the movie trailer (deconstructed admirably by Elliott Prasse-Freeman and Sayres Rudy here) about a single gas-masked man threatening a large-scale entertainment event as an expression of class war. The Dark Knight trilogy as a whole has celebrated a lone, caped crusader, whose main superpower is his ability to confront the criminals he pursues in a lawless space, outside the usual moral constraints. Holmes’ violent actions dovetailed all too neatly with TDKR’s aesthetic. It remains to be seen how much he believes he chimed with the movie characters’ (Bruce Wayne or Bane) personal morality.

Wider social implications (fanning the flames)

By choosing a movie theatre in Aurora, CO, Holmes was inserting himself in not just a current news narrative (TDKR) but a long-running one. Aurora is just under 16 miles away from Columbine, the site of another tragic, senseless shooting in April 1999. The wounds caused by Klebold and Harris’s rampage have never healed. While the two events are materially unconnected, their proximity has meant frequent links between the two in this morning’s news reporting. And there are many column inches yet to be filled. Did we learn nothing from Columbine? How could it happen again, so close by? Do Colorado’s lax gun laws make it a hot-spot for mass shootings? Is the economic health of this region a factor? Are local mental health provisions a failure?

Social Control

We’ve long been encouraged to consider public and semi-public spaces (schools, airports, railway stations, government offices) as potential war zones in which carrying a firearm is an act of terrorism. Although we grumble about increased surveillance and security measures, we accept them as a necessary part of doing daily business in 2012. However, the erosion of freedom and anonymity is a one-way street. George Carlin was as prescient as ever in his 1999 stand-up movie, You Are All Diseased:

..if we made airplanes completely safe, the terrorists would simply start bombing other places that are crowded. Porn shops, crack houses, titty bars, and gangbangs. You know, entertainment venues.

Inevitably, last night’s events will make it likely cinema multiplexes will be added to the long list of places where passing through a metal detector is a condition of entry. ‘Additional security’ is already being provided at theaters screening TDKR. “We’re concerned that someone, perhaps seeking notoriety, will attempt to do something similar,” said NYPD head Ray Kelly.

However, the wider discussion about gun control, how an individual like Holm could get hold of such deadly weaponry and ammunition, continues to be a political hot potato, with those calling for more restrictions shouted down by gun enthusiasts citing their Second Amendment right to bear arms. In an election year, neither presidential candidate wants to alienate voters by threatening their constitutional freedoms. They avoid addressing the question that one individual’s legally enshrined right to purchase an automatic weapon threatens the freedom of hundreds of others to enjoy a movie in peace and safety. A society where people live in constant fear of attack by a lone, insane gunman is hardly a democracy.

The other social control that will be discussed, but not implemented, is mental health care. Like so many lone gunmen before him, Holmes has already been identified as a quiet drop-out whose last regular links with society (i.e. university attendance) were recently severed. His actions yesterday evening, dressing and arming himself, leaving a booby-trapped apartment, and driving to the multiplex with murder on his mind, speak to a severe mental illness. Although he clearly made plans, they didn’t include eluding capture. He must have been so disconnected from the people around him that no one noticed his state of mind, and he felt there was no one he could approach for help, or to warn them that he was feeling the urge to act on some dangerous impulses. Modern city living isn’t geared to awareness of those around us. Even if you are aware that something is “off” with a neighbor, there’s nowhere to go for help. Many, many people fall through the cracks on a daily basis, and no one notices or cares unless their mental breakdown manifests in tragedy. PhD student Holmes certainly engineered his breakdown so that it would have maximum media impact, reminding us all that in the great chain of society we are collectively only as strong and as safe as our weakest links.

Time Lapse

Gotta love some time lapse! LA photographer, Colin Rich, explains the elaborate processes he uses to get the job done in the LA Times.

L.A. Photographer Takes The Long View

And here’s the result of his work:

LA Light from Colin Rich on Vimeo.

Happy Record Store Day!

Record Store Day 2012Record Store Day is the sixth annual international celebration of independent record retailers. All over the world, record stores will be organising barbecues and face-painting, hosting bands, and selling unique music unavailable anywhere else.

The independent record store is one of the only places you’ll get to hear local, new music, talk to an expert in a particular musical genre, hang out with like-minded fans, get details of gigs and exclusive tracks, find rare and vintage records. In the face of high street chains (who then all went bust, RIP Our Price, Tower Records and HMV), and the transition to downloading digital music, rather than buying physical records, a lot of these small stores, run by enthusiasts, have managed to keep going, even through economic recession. They represent community and culture, and the music industry would be much the poorer without them.

They deserve to be celebrated!

Find the independent record store nearest to you via Record Store Day, and a list of the exclusive tracks that will be available via these small retailers. And don’t forget that the official brew is Revolver Beer. Customers are expected to start lining up for the bonanza at 7am, and there will be long queues all day, so plan accordingly.

If you’re in Leeds, my friends at Jumbo Records (5/6 St. John’s Centre) have a number of offers and in-store events throughout the day.

Mediaknowall favourites, Man Without Country, are releasing a very limited edition white 7″ vinyl tomorrow to celebrate Record Store Day. It includes ‘King Complex’ and their remix of M83’s ‘Midnight City’

In addition, Lanterns On The Lake are releasing ‘Low Tide’ on 12″ white vinyl which includes a MWC remix and Laurel Halo, Dauwd, Sun Glitters, Young Montana and Damu.

Have fun out there!

The Muppet Games

This delicious Muppet trailer parodies the Hunger Games, and proves that you can make a movie look like it comes from the genre of your choice via the judicious selection of clips for the trailer. It’s all up to Marketing.

Where’s Cameron?

Really? Grown ups have to spend their day off mooching around town alone? That’s kinda sad.

Top Illegally Downloaded Movies 2011

It seems Paul Walker still has what it takes. But no wonder the studios are pissed off about piracy. Let’s do the math.

Box Office Mojo works with an average per ticket price of $7.96 for 2011 (although I usually pay twice that). I’ve included the revenue discrepancy if everyone who downloaded had instead bought a ticket at a theater for that price – although I know some of these pirates might have rented or bought the DVD instead.

1. Fast Five – 9.2m downloads ($73.23M of lost ticket sales)
2. The Hangover II – 8.8m downloads ($70.05M of lost ticket sales)
3. Thor – 8.3m downloads ($66.07M of lost ticket sales)
4. Source Code – 7.9m downloads ($62.88M of lost ticket sales)
5. I Am Number Four – 7.6m downloads ($60.5M of lost ticket sales)
6. Sucker Punch – 7.2m downloads ($57.3M of lost ticket sales)
7. 127 Hours – 6.9m downloads ($55M of lost ticket sales)
8. Rango – 6.4m downloads ($51M of lost ticket sales)
9. The King’s Speech – 6.2m downloads ($49.4M of lost ticket sales)
10. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 – 6m downloads ($47.76M of lost ticket sales)

For a movie like Sucker Punch, which managed a worldwide gross of only $89.8M, these numbers must be particularly galling. If everyone who downloaded the movie had actually bought a ticket instead, then it might have been considered a middling success, rather than a dismal failure. The same goes for Source Code, which barely scraped $55M as a domestic gross, and could certainly have used an extra $62.88M in its final tally.

The money lost on each one of these movies, had it gone to the studios, would have funded a mid-budget movie (and employed hundreds of people). So, next time you go to the multiplex and wonder where all the “missing” movies are, the non-sequels, the non-remakes, the non-adaptations, this is what happened: pirates ate them.

The Guardian has the full breakdown.

Top Viral Videos for 2011

In an increasingly important metric (who watches actual TV ads these days?), Old Spice wins out as the most clicked ad on YouTube.

AdAge has the full story.

Hunger Games trailer now online

Unbelievable awesomeness – this looks like one literary adaptation they got right.

The People vs. Drive: Is Bad Marketing A Crime?

Michigan resident, Sarah Deming, is suing her local multiplex and the distributors of Ryan Gosling-starrer Drive.

Deming says the movie was promoted “as very similar to the Fast and Furious, or similar, series of movies” but actually “bore very little similarity to a chase or race action film, having very little driving in the motion picture”. She also claims that

Drive was a motion picture that substantially contained extreme gratuitous defamatory dehumanizing racism directed against members of the Jewish faith, and thereby promoted criminal violence against members of the Jewish faith”

and hopes that anyone who feels the same way will join her in a class-action suit. She’s seeking the price of her ticket and further damages.

There have been many rumblings about the way Drive was marketed prior to this lawsuit. The movie itself doesn’t have any identity problems. It’s an extremely violent, Euro arthouse flick from beginning to end. However, it was shot within the Hollywood system and contains many Hollywood stars – who all love to play against type given the opportunity – and has to earn its nut at the box office. This always creates a headache for the marketing department who have to ask “How do we reach the biggest possible audience for this movie?” rather than “Who is the best audience for this movie?”.

Thomas Rogers, movie critic and editor at Salon.com, was

“…fascinated by the target demographic of the movie — like, who’s supposed to see it in the first place? There are people who are going to see it because of Ryan Gosling, but I feel like the normal Ryan Gosling audience isn’t all that fond of seeing someone stomp people to death. The movie has these gay movie references — mostly to Kenneth Anger’s underground film “Scorpio Rising” — but there’s really nothing overtly gay about it. The title sequence has this campy 1980s lettering, which is duplicated in the film’s ad campaign — and a hilarious, awesome fake-’80s synth score — which makes it seem like it might have a romance or comedy element to it. But the film’s only sex scene involves two people touching a stick shift, and there’s probably only one joke in it. I think, basically, this movie manages to frustrate everybody’s expectations of it — to its great credit.

By attempting to broaden the target audience (including Ryan Gosling fans, Fast and Furious Fans, crime caper fans, even Mad Men fans thanks to the presence of Christina Hendricks) the studio ended up disappointing a lot of people and generating some horrible word of mouth. That’s the kiss of death in today’s Twitter-driven marketplace. And now it’s generated a lawsuit.

Whether Deming’s case ultimately gets dismissed as frivolous, or settled out of court just so it will go away, remains to be seen. However, it does raise some interesting issues about what audiences feel they are being duped into by the Hollywood machine.

For decades, movie trailers have attempted to make bad acting and story-telling look palatable, cherry-picking the six good moments from an absolute bomb in order to lure an audience into going to see it. Is this artistic licence, or classic bait-and-switch? Do movie-goers have a duty to inform themselves about the actual content of a film (Sarah Deming could have saved herself a lot of time and trouble by reading some of the advance reviews of Drive online) or do they have a right to expect that the general marketing honestly represents what they are about to see?

Are US audiences so infantilised by the constant stream of superheroes and aliens and fighting robots that they are unable to deal with human-on-human violence as part of a fictional story? The Italian poster for Drive (see right) makes no bones about the tone of the movie. Like the US version (top), it features Ryan Gosling, but shows him striding purposefully along a dark road, (bloodstained?) hammer in hand, murder in his eyes, NOT looking dreamy behind a wheel. Was this so unacceptable to Gosling fans entranced by his recent performance in Crazy, Stupid, Love? Was it fair to lure them into watching Drive anyway?

The furore also raises questions about why the kind of easy, casual violence and prejudice that runs rampant in summer blockbusters is acceptable to mainstream US audiences, whereas the one-on-one gritty and realistic violence depicted in Drive is not. The body count of Transformers: Dark of the Moon was way higher than Drive‘s, but Michael Bay glosses over deaths as collateral damage, the inevitable consequence of a thrilling action scene, nothing anyone in the audience has to deal with emotionally or viscerally. The potentially negative impact of the racism represented by Mudflaps and Skids in Transformers 2 far surpasses any of the anti-semitic snarls of the hoods in Drive (clue: one movie is aimed at children still forming their view of the world, one is not).

No one’s bringing a class action suit against Michael Bay and his corporate paymasters, Hasbro and Paramount. Perhaps Deming and her attorneys should be litigating against more culpable targets?

Watch the Drive trailer for yourself:

The Drive Backlash: Too violent, too arty or both? – Salon
Detroit Woman Sues “Drive” Film-makers– Click On Detroit
My “Drive” review – Planet Fury