FX Movie News: 11-15-06

Today’s Headlines: MGM Chief Reveals “Hobbit” Plans; The Wachowskis Invade “The Invasion”; Dreamworks Animation Investors Abandon Ship; Superman Sequel Has A Working Title; Digital Domain To Create Photoreal CGI Halo 3 Commercial; Pirates 3 Prop Master: “A project like this may come once in a lifetime”; Star Wars Films Go On Demand; Futuristic Doomsday On The Way; IMAX Ready To Fold?; Crowd Simulation Grows Up; Unauthorized Spiderman 3 Trailer Hits The Web; Marvel Stock Rises 42%; “28 Weeks Later” Gets Some Infectious Footage Online; LucasArts Reveals Star Wars: The Best of PC; Tim Burton Signs Borat For Sweeney Todd


MGM Chief Reveals “Hobbit” Plans

(Variety) At the European Media Leaders Summit in London, MGM chief Harry Sloan confirmed that the studio plans to focus on its five core franchises – James Bond, “The Pink Panther,” “Thomas Crown,” “Rocky” and “The Hobbit”. The aim is to release two or three tentpoles per year reports Variety.

Sloan confirmed MGM was in talks with Peter Jackson to make two movies based on J.R.R. Tolkein’s “The Hobbit” though that is contingent on negotiations with New Line, which owns the right to produce “The Hobbit”.

The first “Hobbit” will be a direct adaptation of “The Hobbit,” and the second would be drawn from footnotes and source material connecting “The Hobbit” with “The Lord of the Rings”.

The Wachowskis Invade “The Invasion”

(chud.com) Oliver Hirschbiegel was a pretty hot commodity in Hollywood. Warner Bros snatched him up for their film The Invasion, an updated version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Produced by Joel Silver, the scifi film stars Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig, and I was pretty excited about it.

Then the film seemed to drop off the radar a bit.

And could it be that the film dropped off the radar because Joel Silver and Warner Bros are unhappy with it? That seems to be the case, as gossip rag website TMZ is reporting that the Wachowski Siblings are being brought in to rewrite the filmu2019s ending to make it more exciting. An insider tells the site: “This is normal. It’s a thriller, and occasionally, a studio will want it to make it, you know, actually thrilling.”

I don’t know who will be shooting this new ending u2013 I have to imagine that Silver turned to the Wachowskis to rewrite the finale because he wasn’t getting anywhere with Hirschbiegel, who was probably stubbornly standing up for art and his vision of the movie. Those foreigners!

Bringing in new writers to punch a script up isn’t all that unusual, of course. What makes this difference is that, as far as I know, The Invasion is finished. And of course going back for reshoots isn’t that unusual either, but Silver bringing in such high profile people and people so very, very loyal to him seems to hint at problems inside the production.

Dreamworks Animation Investors Abandon Ship

(bloomberg.com) DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc. said investors including Paul Allen and Viacom Inc. plan to sell $330 million of their shares in the movie studio in a public offering.

Lee Entertainment LLC will also sell stock, Glendale, California-based DreamWorks said today in a statement.

The decision ends a collaboration that started with Allen’s 1995 investment in DreamWorks SKG, the film studio founded by Jeffrey Katzenberg, director Steven Spielberg and music producer David Geffen. Allen, DreamWorks’s largest holder with more than 14 percent of the company, signaled his intention to sell stock in DreamWorks last month when he demanded the partnership be dissolved.

Shares of DreamWorks, maker of the “Shrek” films, fell 70 cents to $27.51 at 9:33 a.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading, below the company’s October 2004 initial public offering price of $28.

Neither DreamWorks, Spielberg, Katzenberg nor Geffen are selling shares, the company said.

DreamWorks separately said it plans to write down the value of its “Flushed Away” movie. Any reduction may be material, DreamWorks said.

“Flushed Away” has grossed $40 million at the domestic box office since its release Nov. 3. The company has capitalized $142.9 million in inventory costs associated with the film.

Superman Sequel Has A Working Title

(iesb.net) A few weeks ago, the story broke that director Bryan Singer had signed on to direct the sequel to Superman Returns. This week, we can reveal that the new film does in fact have a working title.

While we can’t guarantee that this will be the final title of the film, as of right now the sequel project is being referred to as Superman: The Man of Steel.

We received a quick note from a WB rep who believes that the working title of The Man of Steel may not be accurate. We have double checked our sources and we are being told that even though it is early, that is the name being used for now.

Digital Domain To Create Photoreal CGI Halo 3 Commercial

(xbox360.themanroom.com) Today the original ‘Halo’ turns five and makes all of us feel just a little bit older. To celebrate what is being dubbed ‘Halo Day,’ Microsoft and Bungie have announced a number of Halo universe goodies coming to a screen near you over the next year or so.

The first, and frankly odd bombshell is a collaboration between Bungie and Digital Domain to create a photorealistic CGI commercial for ‘Halo 3’ that will air during December 4’s Monday Night Football game. Bungie will be providing the assets and Digital Domain will be doing the animation and photorealism.

What do we think of this? Much like EA’s infamous ‘Madden’ CGI trailer that aired during the NFL Draft, this non-gameplay trailer will surely set lofty expectations for casual Halo fans around the globe. My advice is to treat the trailer more like a glimpse of what Peter Jackson’s upcoming (and I use that term loosely) Halo movie *might* look like, even though it will use characters/weapons/vehicles and environments associated with the third game.

An even bigger bombshell is news Bungie and Microsoft are planning a public beta test for the online component of ‘Halo 3’ sometime in either the Spring or Summer of 2007. The demo will, of course, require an Xbox 360 but other details are being kept under wraps for the time being. I can hear the fanboys wetting their pants now.

And lastly, long-rumored new multiplayer maps for ‘Halo 2’ have been confirmed to be in development with a target release timeframe of Spring 2007. These maps will cost money to grab off Xbox Live Marketplace, though just how much will be kept secret for the time being. What is known is, at present, an Xbox 360 will be required to play these maps even though ‘Halo 2’ is an Xbox game. Bungie is working on alternatives but can’t provide any reassurance to the slice of gamers either unwilling or unable to make the jump to Xbox 360.

Pirates 3 Prop Master: “A project like this may come once in a lifetime”

(madison.com) Some little kids dream of running away from home and signing up on a pirate ship, Robert Louis Stevenson-style.

Charlie Montoya wasn’t one of those kids. And yet, somehow, he finds himself working long days on some of the world’s most famous pirate ships, surrounded by cannons, swords, and, of course, pirates.

Montoya, who has lived in Madison for the past three years, is working as a set dresser for one of the biggest film franchises of all time, Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” films. He worked on the sets for the second film in the trilogy, this summer’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest,” which is already the third top-grossing film in Hollywood history. And he’s currently working on the final installment, “At World’s End,” which will arrive in theaters next May.

He’s getting shore leave this weekend to return to Madison for an appearance at FilmCon, an annual convention for film buffs to talk with real Hollywood professionals about the nuts and bolts of filmmaking, and science fiction and fantasy films in particular.

The convention, which runs Friday through Sunday at the Radisson Inn West, 517 Grand Canyon Drive, will include everything from panel discussions on film and TV remakes to a hands-on session on creating makeup effects for high-definition film, as well as a costume contest and an independent film festival.

Montoya will make two appearances on Saturday, giving a general talk about set dressing at 2 p.m. and a “Pirates”-centric talk about “Creating the World of Jack Sparrow” at 8:30 p.m.

He has spent 20 years in the business, first working as an assistant director in movies like “Young Guns” and “The Last Action Hero,” now moving into props and set dressing on films like “Pirates” and television shows like “Alias” and “Without a Trace.”

As a prop master, Montoya is basically responsible for anything the actors may touch in the course of a scene; on “Alias,” for example, he was always coming up with snazzy-looking bombs, GPS locators and other gadgets. As a set dresser, Montoya is focused on the items added to the set that help make the audience believe they’re really there.

On the “Pirates” movies, “there” can be anywhere from a village full of cannibals to a pirate ship manned by human-sea creature hybrids, making the sets a mix of the historical and the fantastic.

“In set dressing, I work with the decorator, and he or she will decorate the set,” he says in a telephone interview from the “World’s End” set. “All the crates, all the barrels, all the cannonballs, all the fancy-schmancy decorative lighting, would become mine. In the cannibal village, we built the throne that Johnny (Depp) is sitting in. We decorated all the huts. They’re all ours.”

Disney has sworn Montoya and much of the cast to absolute secrecy as to what audiences will see in the third movie, including whether or not a certain aging rocker makes an appearance as pirate Jack Sparrow’s father. But what Montoya describes is an extremely hard-working but satisfying environment devoid of the “Tinseltown” glitz that people assume is part of a movie set.

“I’ve never truly seen the glamour of Hollywood,” he says. “We’re not sitting around drinking Starbucks with the stars all day. In fact, the stars work a little harder than we do, because they have to go home and study their lines for the next day.”

Montoya originally started his two decades in Hollywood as an assistant director, who is essentially responsible for the day-to-day logistics on a movie set. After he tired of the constant stress of that job, he moved into props and set dressing, a more creative task that still allowed him to be on the set.

In recent years, he had been thinking of easing out of the movie business, and he and his family moved to Madison about three years ago for a more family-friendly climate than Los Angeles. But when a friend asked him to work on the second and third “Pirates” movies, it was too good to pass up.

“A project like this may come once in a lifetime,” he says. “You can work in the business for 40 years and not work on a project like this ever. This is two of the biggest, most expensive movies ever made.”

A film of that scale means that Montoya is working on some innovative, expensive sets, both on land and at sea. It also means a lot of 15-hour days in a high-stress environment as cast and crew pull together to accomplish such a huge undertaking on time and on budget, and as close as possible to the director’s vision of the film.

“We come in and we try to make it look as beautiful as possible and as functional as possible,” he says. “If they want a pirate war room with a big table and a big globe and tiny soldiers, we try to make it as true to form as possible. We have a person who’s a re-enactment specialist, and he can tell us exactly what we need to come up with, to get as close to reality as possible.”

Adding to the pressure is that much of the second and third movies were filmed at the same time, out of sequence, so things had to be changed back and forth to maintain continuity between the two movies. Montoya tells of a giant stern lamp on the Black Pearl that is broken in one movie and intact in the other and had to be switched back and forth depending on which scene was being shot that day.

And then there’s the sea, which does not respond well to direction and pre-planning and can really complicate a film shoot. Just ask the makers of “Waterworld.”

“It’s nature, and it is what it is,” Montoya says. “One night you can be out on the Black Pearl in the middle of the Caribbean and it’s like glass, you can see the sharks moving around 100 feet down. A minute later, the winds shift to the southeast and it becomes tradewinds, and it turns into a washing machine.”

The crew members of a film like “Pirates” must resign themselves to the fact that much of their hard work on sets will get destroyed in the course of a film. As a veteran of Hollywood, Montoya says that he has learned that the sets and props he comes up with aren’t really real. What’s real is what is on film.

“Because it’s part of the movie, I don’t mind,” he says. “You get into a mentality that it’s for the shot. Once you accept the fact that everything we’re doing is fake, then you’re fine. There’s a lot of people on the set who haven’t come to that realization, and they’re all getting ulcers as we speak. It’s just a movie.”

Star Wars Films Go On Demand

(vfxworld.com) Jedis, Wookies, Sith and droids are coming to Comcast Digital Cable with On Demand in HD. Beginning this month, all six STAR WARS films will be available in HD clarity any time customers want to watch them with Cinemax HD On Demand, nine days before the movies air on the Cinemax HD cable channel.

Cinemax and Cinemax HD kick off a weekend marathon of all six movies on Nov. 10, 2006, at midnight with Star Wars: Episode I �The Phantom Menace, concluding on Nov. 13 with STAR WARS: EPISODE VI RETURN OF THE JEDI. The films will air at additional times throughout November.

Futuristic Doomsday On The Way

(scifi.com) Rhona Mitra has signed on to star in Rogue Pictures’ Doomsday, a futuristic action thriller that will be Neil Marshall’s follow-up to his much-buzzed-about horror movie The Descent, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Doomsday, written by Marshall, is set three decades after a lethal virus tears through a major country, leading to the country’s walling off. When the virus, known as the Reaper, resurfaces in another country, an elite group is dispatched to the infected country to find a cure. There, they end up shut off from the rest of the world and must battle through a landscape that has become a waking nightmare. Mitra plays the leader of the elite group. Production is slated to begin in early 2007.

Mitra, who was one of the women in an ill-fated caving expedition in The Descent, next appears in the horror movie Skinwalkers and New Line’s Jim Carrey thriller The Number 23.

IMAX Ready To Fold?

(media.seekingalpha.com) So, is a company ever too cheap to sell? That’s a very apt question for Imax (IMAX) shareholders. The large-format theater company reported a dismal quarter last week, bringing shares down dramatically once again (by about 20% Thursday morning).

I had thought that almost any possible bad news was baked into this stock. Clearly, I was wrong, as a .30 cent per share loss is a far, far cry from the .05 profit the analysts were predicting. I was shocked that they didn’t install a single theater system in the quarter, which was the primary reason for the shortfall (though they did sign some additional deals, particularly overseas, and they continue to have a solid order backlog that will keep them busy with installations at least until the beginning of 2008).

They blame “slippages” in permitting and construction for these delays, but “expect” to install 5-8 systems in the fourth quarter of this year — which ought to bring revenues back up to where they were in the third quarter of last year, when they installed 6 systems and recognized about $20 million in systems revenue (as opposed to this quarter, when they installed nothing and recognized about $7 million). The ongoing revenue was about the same year over year, even though the film slate was weak with the disappointing Ant Bully not doing much to drive revenue.
Imax picture
I bought these IMAX shares after they announced that they hadn’t found a buyer for the company a few months ago. I fully expected them to step back and accept a somewhat lower price for the company, but one that was higher than the then-bargain price of around $6 (I’ve since sold the shares that I held before that announcement).

I was certainly wrong about that, at least for now. I don’t know whether it’s because the company is “damaged goods” with their SEC investigation or just because of the fragility of the movie theater business, but no one is stepping up to buy the company at the moment.

They have authorized their investment bankers to look for bidders at lower valuations, but that reeks of desperation — the shares are now $8-10 lower than IMAX was hoping to get in a deal, and it seems that any interested buyers can simply bide their time and wait, like vultures circling a lame beast in the desert.

It is probably not really worth it for me to sell my IMAX shares at the moment, since as long as they remain a going concern and don’t collapse into bankruptcy the share price is likely to recover at some point as installations pick up, and as the Spider Man 3 and Harry Potter movies mean film revenue is likely to be significantly improved in 2007.

But the temptation to sell just so I don’t have to look at this red line in my portfolio every day is very hard to resist. They also face a significant risk in changing over to digital projection in 2008, as they plan, which could either really spur sales or drown them in additional development costs.

I don’t have much faith in the company at this point, and their high debt levels and very weak reputation on Wall Street make the shares riskier than ever. But it does seem to me that they ought to be able to hit sales of at least $120 million next year with their order backlog, and I don’t see a lot of justification for the company to trade at much less than 1X their sales as long as those installations remain profitable. At those prices, at least a private equity buyer ought to be interested — although it gives one pause that Imax hasn’t gotten a decent buyout price at a time when the markets are awash in cash that’s looking for a home.

My reluctance to sell is probably a personal weakness, I feel to some extent as though I’m standing on the deck of the Titanic but focusing more on the abundance of ice cubes — and I don’t want to give anyone the impression that I’d advocate buying shares here.

Crowd Simulation Grows Up

(smh.com.au) Bruce D’Amora sees a lot of cool, cutting-edge stuff in his work with the Emerging Systems Software group at IBM’s T. J. Watson Research Centre in New York State.

Recently he was very excited by a bunch of virtual chickens. “We simulated 16,000 chickens – they behaved quite well,” he explains. “They showed natural flocking behaviour, moving towards different parts of the pen and joining other groups. When we put a rooster in there, they would all gather around him.”

No, IBM isn’t working on a new top-secret chicken-powered silicon chip. Mr D’Amora’s team was using IBM’s powerful new Cell Broadband Engine – the chip at the heart of the much-anticipated Playstation 3 console, which launches overseas this week – to model massive simulations of crowd behaviour.

The interaction of large numbers of “independently thinking” units is one of several new fields being opened by advances in technology.

It’s no longer just about how cool a computer game looks, Mr D’Amora says, it’s about how objects and characters behave.

“There is visual realism and there is behavioural realism,” he says. “They are both just as important for the look and feel of a game or movie.”

More: http://www.smh.com.au/news/games/games-wizards-count-their-chickens/2006/11/13/1163266481816.html

Unauthorized Spiderman 3 Trailer Hits The Web

(showbizdata.com) Following complaints from fans that the new Spider-Man 3 trailer — officially released last week on the Internet, on TV, and in movie theaters — lacked any look at the film’s villain, an earlier but incomplete trailer, complete with scenes of bad guy Venom, quickly turned up on YouTube. The blog Popoholic published a still from the movie showing Venom and warned that Sony would probably move quickly to have the trailer removed from YouTube. Nevertheless, it said, “Now this is the Spider-Man 3 trailer the studio should have released.”

Marvel Stock Rises 42%

(showbizdata.com) Marvel Entertainment, largely on the basis of positive buzz for Spider-Man 3, due to be released in May, and Fox’s Fantastic Four 2, scheduled for July, has raised its net sales projection in 2007 to $375 million to $435 million versus expected sales of $338 million for 2006.

Since July Marvel stock has soared higher than any of its superheroes, rising 42 percent to $27.56.

“28 Weeks Later” Gets Some Infectious Footage Online

(filmthreat.com) Fans of the excellent “28 Days Later” are sure to have mixed feelings about the films sequel, “28 Weeks Later.” Why, you ask? Uh….cuz no one from the first film is on board for this one. Instead of Danny Boyle, “Intacto” director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo is at the helm. Instead of Cillian Murphy we get Robert Carlyle, Catherine McCormack, Harold Perrineau and Jeremy Renner.

All that being said, this could still be very good. There’s “raw footage” online and it looks cool so maybe you should sneak inside that abandoned looking apartment and…

Take a look: http://www.foxatomic.com/#PAGE_101:movie=/cols/cols_1600_1_28wclip.flv&movie_id=1601

LucasArts Reveals Star Wars: The Best of PC

(businesswire.com) LucasArts today announced that, for the first time ever, five of the greatest Star Wars� games for the personal computer, plus a free 14-day trial of Star Wars Galaxies, will be packaged together in Star Wars: The Best of PC. This exciting new compilation will be released this month, and will be available only for the holiday 2006 season for a suggested price of $39.99.
Star Wars: The Best of PC features titles from some of the most popular videogame franchises ever released. Combined, the games have sold millions of copies worldwide and, for the first time, are available in one box. Included in Star Wars: The Best of PC are: Star Wars�: Empire at War�, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Star Wars Battlefront�, Star Wars Jedi Knight� II: Jedi Outcast�, and Star Wars Republic Commando�. In addition, a 14-day trial of the popular online experience, Star Wars Galaxies�, is included in the package.

Tim Burton Signs Borat For Sweeney Todd

(Variety) Though it was a mere rumor a few months ago, it’s now official. Sacha Baron Cohen has signed on to Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd.

Cohen fills the role of Signor Adolfo Pirelli, Sweeney’s arch-nemesis, who also happens to be a barber. The picture is set to begin production in London in February.

Based on the hit Broadway musical, the movie tells the infamous story of Benjamin Barker, a.k.a Sweeney Todd (Johnny Depp), who sets up a barbershop in London above Mrs. Lovett’s (Helena Bonham Carter) store. They two form a sinister partnership in order to increase their business.

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One Response to “FX Movie News: 11-15-06”

  1. cybergosh says:

    Sweeney Todd is my reason to live.

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