So, do you remember back when the WGA last went on strike in 2008, one of the results was that the Writers Guild signed contracts with the streaming video services who were just getting into developing their own content? (Okay, even if you or most of the general public doesn’t remember this, writers certainly do…)
What was notable about this is that not being part of the studio system, these streaming services were offering great creative freedom and deals to entice artists to develop projects for them. As I wrote at the time, the company-run AMPTP, by being so obstructionist and unyielding, was risking opening a Pandora’s Box by pushing writers (and eventually other filmmakers and TV craftsman) to a brand new competitor, having long had the playing field and a closed-market to themselves. It was a sort of "We're the only game in town, and so if you don't like the nothing we're offering you, take it or leave it" attitude.
Today, we know at this point that online streaming of new series and occasional movies is a blossoming area. So, how did that "take it or leave it" game work out? The thing is, if you weren’t paying close attention on Oscar night, Amazon and Netflix won four Academy Awards between them. Amazon won two Oscars for Manchester by the Sea (for Best Original Screenplay and Best Actor), and Best Foreign Language Film, The Salesman. Netflix picked up one Oscar for The White Helmets as Best Documentary Short.
Most of the works being created have been series, since online streaming is best suited for that. Though there have been some feature-length films -- some small, though several with big names stars. Most have been project that wouldn't get made at a studio, even if they were good. (Or award-winning worthy.) Though usually even the best have generally had limited theatrical runs -- in part because a lot of movie theaters see online streaming as competition and therefore wouldn't book the movies -- before going online.
That might change. Netflix has its first Really Big film upcoming, and may push for a full-out theatrical run. It's called Bright and stars Will Smith. Here's the trailer.
He's ba-ack. Jon Stewart made another surprise return last night on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. This time, he sat down to have a heart-to-heart with The Media to tell them dating advice because their relationship with Donald Trump is just hurting them and they have to break up.
I mentioned the other day how I love a series of new ads by GE that are low-key, whimsical and thoughtful. It turns out that they beyond these TV spots, they also have a separate series of short videos each around 3 minutes that are equally wonderful. They're not intended as TV ads, I don't believe, but web-only. I may post some from time to time, but here's one that's a gem. It's about whether one can un-ring a bell.
Former Labor Secretary Tom Perez was elected chair of the Democratic National Committee, beating out Rep. Keith Ellison who finished second. Perez immediately named Ellison his deputy chairman.
I've heard both men interviewed about the job, and I wasn't bowled over with Perez. But then I wasn't bowled over by Ellison either. Though I didn't dislike either, and thought they were both bright and thoughtful in their views on politics. Mainly, the person I was hoping would win dropped out of the race quite a while back, Howard Dean. I have no idea why he dropped out, though perhaps he knew he didn't have enough support -- though why he wouldn't have had support, I have no idea why. So, we're back to the beginning.
But I do think it was smart of Perez to bring in Ellison as his second in command, because it immediately assuages any concerns from the somewhat more-progressive Ellison side of the party. And also they complement each other reasonably well.
The thing is, I don't care all that much about who the chair of the DNC is. He's not really "leading" the Democratic Party, and he's not really the face of the party either. He's someone who should be well-spoken when he goes on TV and can make a good case for the issue of the day. But Reince Priebus was the chairman of the Republican National Committee, and I don't think most people considered him The Voice Leading Republicans. He was the hired hit man getting across the party's talking points.
The chair of the party does have a function beyond that, of course. Some of it is to get the agenda out. But some of it, too, is the party I most care about -- and that's organizing states at the grassroots level. I don't think either Perez or Ellison spoke all that much about that (which is why I preferred Dean), but then ultimately the chair of the party isn't really doing that grunt work. It's the 9-5 staffers who operate closer to the ground. It certainly would be helpful to have a chair who makes that an aggressive priority, but in the end it's the staff that will work to get that done.
How well they work at it...well, we'll see. But in some ways, it may take on a life of it's own. On Saturday, for instance, there was a special election in Delaware for one Senate seat which would determine control of the Delaware state senate. The Democratic candidate Stephanie Hansen won by a margin of 58-42 -- but there were several things notable about this:
First, she had 1,000 volunteers during the campaign, and an additional 500 volunteers joined in on Election Day, many of them crossing the border from nearby states to help. To put this in perspective, Democratic state Sen. Dave Sokula said, "That’s more volunteers than I’ve had in nine elections.” And second, though the district leans Democratic, the same Republican candidate John Marino had run in 2014 and lost by only 2 points. This next time around, with Donald Trump now in the White House, that margin grew to 16 points.
This is not proof of anything. But it's a strong starting point to build on. And it's the kind of foundation that whoever the new DNC chair was going to be now has as ammunition. Getting the message out is A Good Thing. Focusing that message in a clear way is A Good Thing. But having an outraged, aggressive army of volunteers to swarm the landscape may well be the best thing.
On this week's "Not My Job" segment of Wait, Wait...Don't Tell Me!, host Peter Sagal's guest contestant is romance novelist Nora Roberts, who writes thrillers, as well, under the pseudonym JD Robb -- who has 198 novels on the New York Times best-seller list. How is that even possible, to even write that many books?? If you start writing when you're 20, and keep writing until you're 66, as she is, that means you'd have to write four books every year -- and all of them on the best-seller list. Bizarre. And this doesn't count the books she's written that didn't make the best-seller list. (I think that may be why she's a bit uncommunicative at the beginning of the interview when host Sagal asks her a few times about how long it takes her to write a book. She probably doesn't want to say, "Seven weeks.") She opens up later, though, and it's an enjoyable interview..
I mean, just simply reading 198 novels in 40 years would be a lot. That's five a year, every year, for almost half a century.
A long while back, I was on a mini-mission to get the Motion Picture Academy to open their Oscar broadcast with a particularly wonderful song that, though it had a bit of shelf-life in country music, I figured they wouldn't know. I actually came close -- not to accomplishing my task, but having access to making the suggestion -- when my former boss at Universal Studios, Bob Rehme, was made president of the Academy. Alas, I didn't have the contact information that would have helped and didn't make the effort -- which probably wouldn't have been too difficult, even it was before Google searches -- to track it down (hence never getting beyond being just a "mini-mission").
The idea time has long-since passed, since the group who sang the song, the Statler Brothers, have retired, and also some of the references in the song -- while many are still classic -- aren't all likely as impactful on today's audience. Still, it's a very fun song, and would make an enjoyable number in the middle of the broadcast, sung by a cobbled-together quartet of movie stars singing. Or the Statlers themselves could come out of retirement. They did briefly a couple years ago for an event when elected into a country music Hall of Fame.
But no, that's not going to happen. But it doesn't stop me from at least presenting the song on the day of the Oscar broadcast. So, here it is -- one of the most affectionate and clever songs I've heard about movies. And it fits perfectly into the portfolio of "list" songs that the Statlers were so well-known for.
Indeed, the name of the song is "The Movies."
Saturday afternoon I went to see the new play, For Piano and Harpo, written by and starring Dan Castellaneta (who as you may likely know does, among many things, the voice of Homer Simpson). It focuses on troubled musician/actor and bitterly-sarcastic wit Oscar Levant who spent a year living at Harpo Marx's house. The show is very well written and acted, and has an interestingly-staged, fast-paced production which, though a drama, is often quite funny. The show is at the Falcon Theatre in Burbank, and still has one more week to run, so if you're in the area, it's worth looking into.
I'll leave it at that because Mark Evanier does a far-better job telling about it all, and how enjoyable it is, and you can read that here because I agree with pretty much all he says, except for the part about knowing many of the people involved...
This week's contestant is Lauren Cason from Greer, South Carolina. You're on your own with this one. It's not a style of music most people are terribly familiar with, I think. I took a stab, but was wrong. But the contestant and even Fred Child were stumped, too, until a barrel of clues came in. And even at that, Ms. Cason -- a piano teacher -- only threw out a guess and was right. As for the hidden song, I heard about four that I thought it might be. I picked one without the greatest confidence, but actually got it. (For as difficult as it was, there is an amusing method to composer Bruce Adolphe's madness on this one.) But even Fred said that this was "this is one of the hardest Piano Puzzlers we've had in a while."
Still waiting for a comment from Trump about how a report written by his own DHS, which is headed by his own appointee Gen. Kelly, says that his travel ban based on citizenship has NO MERIT. Mind you, I'm not foolish enough to wait very long, but will just add it to the list of things promised but still waiting for, like the release of tax returns, and Melania Trump's press confernce.
That aside, I have no doubt that it was just a red tape glitch that the White House buried this report, but it only got out when leaked to the press.
Government by leak. What a terrible way for a country to run. But get used to it.
On this week's 3rd and Fairfax podcast from the Writers Guild of America, the guest is Noah Oppenheim, screenwriter of the film Jackie, as well as The Maze Runner and Allegiant. The episode also includes a discussion of the 2017 Writers Guild Award winners from television and feature films.
As you listen along, you can also following your scorecard by clicking here to see all the WGA nominees and winners.which were announced last Sunday.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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