Hollywood Visit

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I am going to LA next week to produce a TV commercial and decided to blog about some of the experiences…I am not even there yet and I am already thinking to visit one of its great landmarks.

If there is one landmark that says “Hollywood” to the world – literally! – it is the famous Hollywood Sign, perched high atop Mount Lee, the tallest peak in L.A.

The Sign measures 450 feet long, its mammoth letters are 45 feet high, and it’s visible from all parts of Hollywood. Erected in 1923 as an advertising sign for a real estate development in Beachwood Canyon, the Sign originally read “Hollywoodland.” The last four letters were removed in 1945, after Hollywood had become the world’s movie capital, and the Sign had already become a well-known landmark. (In fact, it’s been officially declared “Los Angeles Cultural-Historical Monument #111.”)

In 1932, during the Great Depression, one despondent young actress, Peg Entwistle, even jumped to her death from the Sign’s giant letter “H.”

The original sign contained thousands of light bulbs, which were changed daily by a caretaker who lived in a small house behind one of the Sign’s giant “L’s.”

And in the 1998 Disney remake of “Mighty Joe Young,” the oversized ape climbs the Hollywood Sign and perches in one of its giant letter “O.”s

Unfortunately, there is no easy way to reach the Sign itself, which is located atop an undeveloped hillside, far from roads. And if you did manage to reach the area, you would discover that the Sign has been fenced in to keep out the curious, and that a new high-tech alarm system has recently been installed.  Boo.

The best way to see the Hollywood Sign is to drive up Beachwood Drive. The Sign is clearly visible most the way up Beachwood, That is where my other “must” visit landmark is located…the Village Cafe or as the locals call it, the Beachwood Cafe.

Mobile Marketing is a must for movie studios.

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Mobile has become a go-to channel for film and television studios looking to build buzz for a new movie or show.

To promote Frank Miller’s film “The Spirit,” Lionsgate launched an iPhone application letting consumers project themselves photo-realistically into the digital realm.

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“Mobile is always part of 360-degree marketing strategy for any new-release film that comes out, and increasing for new TV shows as well,” said Curt Marvis, president of digital media at Lionsgate, Santa Monica, CA.

“Our mobile strategy involves providing new, original content based on existing brands such as ‘Mad Men’ or ‘Weeds’ and figure out how to extend that through mobile channels,” he said. “We introduce new content via Web or via mobile or both, which encourages consumers to come back to traditional programming such as a theater or their TV.

“Mobile video is still in the early days, but we see a lot of potential.”

In addition to iPhone applications, Lionsgate has run SMS initiatives, mobile advertising campaigns, mobile sweepstakes, free mobile content and mobile video.

The studio is also working on releasing several gaming-based applications for the iPhone.

Overseas, Lionsgate has launched shows that were financed exclusively through revenues generated from mobile, and Mr. Marvis believes that in two-to-three years the mobile commerce ecosystem may be mature enough in the U.S. to generate massive mobile content sales.

“Definitely we’re huge believers in the mobile channel as a video channel, and the bandwidth will have a lot to do with that, but the concerns about the small screen-size are bullshit,” Mr. Marvis said.

As evidence he cited the “incredible” number of TV episodes consumers have bought via iTunes to watch on their iPhone.

Mr. Marvis also believes that mobile payments using one’s handset will be a game changer. He was excited about ARL/VRL audio-based location technology that integrates voice recognition and mobile coupons.

“You’ll be able to say a brand name or movie title, find where the closest retailer is or the closest theatres that are showing that movie, also giving you a $1 off coupon,” Mr. Marvis said. “There are some of the things we see going forward becoming really valuable for us.”

Also, better devices and better networks will mean more opportunities for brands to reach consumers via mobile and provide better content and a better experience.

“Once bandwidth starts to expand, five years from now the mobile channel will be a massively important contributor to our revenue,” Mr. Marvis said. “It will probably revolve around the forward-going notion among consumers that everything’s free, and the entire entertainment business is faced with different models to cope with that.

“There will be subscription services such as TV anywhere, where cable is also available on subscribers’ cell phone wherever they are, and it will be much more ad driven than it will be transactionally driven—brought to you by brand X, Y and Z,” he said.

Movie about Darwin may not run in the USA!


My colleagues and I have been discussing the new Jon Amiel movie, Creation, starring Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connolly. I believe it to be a thoughtful, well-made film that will change many views of Darwin held by the public. According to statistics only 37% of Americans believe in evolution.

The acting is strong, the visuals are wonderful, and it treats with loving care the Victorian details of the furnishings at Down house and other sites (such as Malvern), and the local church.

The movie takes place after Darwin has returned from the Beagle voyage, and has settled down with his wife, Emma. It concentrates on their relationship, on the growth of their family, and of course, on the production of his most famous scientific work, On the Origin of Species. It looks hard at Darwin and his growing disenchantment with Christianity, especially the concept of Providence, and how poorly it fits Darwin the naturalist’s knowledge of a very unpeaceable kingdom.

As someone with a keen interest in how the public understands evolution and it’s most famous proponent, the bottom line for me was that the science be presented accurately. Natural selection and evolution (common descent, expressed in the movie by the tree of life metaphor) are both presented accurately, and although the movie does not dwell a great deal on the actual science, the importance of science to Darwin was apparent. Darwin was accurately presented as a curious naturalist (engaging his kids in natural history—geology, beetles, nature walks—even scientifically studying his baby! etc). Darwin is seen as a careful scientist—lots of microscope work, lots of careful record-keeping of pigeons, barnacles, etc. It is also clear—which is historically accurate—that Darwin was held in high regard as a scientist by his colleagues.
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Much of Creation‘s dialogue is taken directly from Darwin’s correspondence or that of his contemporaries. There is a TON of real history in this movie.

I think much of the public viewing the Creation think he wrote one not-very-good book, and is unaware that Darwin devoted his life to science, conducting experiments and making observations and being held in high regard by his contemporaries. In particular, Darwin as a passionate, loving human being is far from how most Americans picture him. I like to think that someone seeing this movie will be stimulated to read one of the many biographies found on the movie’s excellent website (www.creationthemovie.com), or otherwise easily accessible.

Creation is first and foremost a movie about the relationship between Charles and Emma. The actors, married in real life, and themselves parents, do an excellent job portraying the range of emotions that must have been part of the Darwins’ life together—from tenderness as they hold their baby Annie, through their shared grief over her death, to the tension over their different attitudes towards religion, and other aspects of their relationship.

By telling an interesting story, and making Darwin human, Creation will I think encourage some viewers to find out more about the historical Darwin and his ideas. The more people know about evolution and its most famous proponent, the less they will fear it. I’d like to see this movie get distributed in the US. Unfortunately, although Canadians and British will see it, there is not yet a US distributor. We can only speculate why, but the well-known American nervousness about evolution is probably and unfortunately part of the mix.

This movie deserves to be seen in movies, not relegated merely to Netflix on DVD. I hope the reviews following the North American premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 10 are good, and also the reviews following the British premiere October 25.

Ponyo: can a Japanese fantasy finally animate US audiences?

Ponyo is Hayao Miyazaki’s latest “animé” release following a string of acclaimed cartoons that had limited success in America.
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In his native Japan Miyazaki enjoys widespread critical and popular acclaim for his exquisitely animated films, which take viewers into surreal alternative worlds of shape-shifting dragons and floating castles. My roommate in Tokyo loved each one and even has all the DVDs.

But while he is a superstar at home in Japan as the master of animé, the director has struggled to capture the public imagination in the US.

Miyazaki’s hopes for a breakthrough in the biggest movie market in the world now rest with Ponyo, the tale of a playful goldfish who longs to be a little girl, released by Disney in the US this weekend.

Positive reviews of his previous work have failed to prompt more than a lukewarm response from moviegoers in North America. In 2003, the year his Spirited Away won an Oscar for best animated film, box office sales in the US and Canada reached a modest $10m, compared with $356m in the rest of the world. The pattern was repeated two years later with Howl’s Moving Castle, which made $4.7m in North America but $230m elsewhere. I actually liked that one.

Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, Ponyo earned $160m in Japan and sealed Miyazaki’s reputation as the country’s foremost living director.

After sneaking away from her underwater home, Ponyo befriends Sosuke, a five-year-old boy who lives in a cottage overlooking the coast, and her transformation into a human begins.

While much of the film’s charm hinges on its fanciful storyline and impeccable production values, there is room for consideration of the weighty theme of environmental destruction as the plot takes a darker turn.

Chastened, perhaps, by past disappointments, Miyazki, 68, has taken no risks in preparing for Ponyo’s US release in partnership with the Pixar and Disney creative guru John Lasseter.

Audiences will be treated to an English-language original produced by Lasseter, the wizard behind Toy Story and Cars. In an attempt to broaden the film’s appeal the makers have recruited an all-star cast of character voices including Liam Neeson, Matt Damon and Cate Blanchett. This should help.

The inclusion of Frankie Jonas, the younger brother of the Jonas Brothers, as Sosuke, and Noah Cyrus, the younger sister of Hannah Montana star Miley Cyrus as Ponyo, should help attract the youth market.

Miyazaki’s ability to tap into a child’s fevered imagination, coupled with his richly colorful, hand-drawn frames, have been rewarded with almost universal critical acclaim in Japan and huge earnings for his Studio Ghibli, near Tokyo.

Experts say he deserves more credit for his record in the US. The US box office figures aren’t great compared with Pixar and Disney, but compared with other Japanese films in the States they didn’t do badly.
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Few Japanese movies have traveled well in the US in the past 30 years, with the notable exceptions of Tampopo (Juzo Itami, 1985), Shall We Dance (Masayuki Suo, 1996) and Dreams (Akira Kurosawa, 1990).

Despite his lower profile in the US, Miyazaki, instantly recognizable from his shock of white hair, has been nicknamed the Japanese Walt Disney, a comparison he is said to find discomfiting.

In the US it has received mixed reviews. The film critic Christy Lemire suggested it would appeal most to children under five and adults on hallucinogenic drugs.

For everyone else, Lemire said: “Ponyo will seem beautiful but surprisingly boring: a children’s film that’s at once overly simplistic and needlessly nonsensical.” Wow that was harsh but I get her point…it is very “Japanese” in style.

The New York-based film critic Ethan Alter was more generous. “If you have never seen a Miyazaki film before, now’s a great time to start.”

When it came out in Tokyo last year the theme song drove me and all of my friends crazy!

Benjamin Button Gets 13 Oscar Nominations

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The Dark Knight, the superhero thriller that was expected to make history as the first comic-book adaptation to take a best-picture nomination, and Gran Torino, which the Hollywood veteran starred in and directed, were left out of the contest for Oscar’s top prize.
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Instead, the far more serious Holocaust-themed The Reader took the fifth berth and its director, Stephen Daldry, also managed to slip into his category.

The other nominees announced for top prize in the 81st Academy Awards Thursday morning in Los Angeles followed the script of the prognosticators: the era-spanning fable The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which led the crowd with 13 nominations; gay-themed political biopic Milk; TV-landmark drama Frost/Nixon; and romantic crowd-pleaser Slumdog Millionaire.

Let’s see what happens Button is a great film!

What did Bill Murray say at the end of “Lost in Translation”?

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It’s rare that you find a movie that sticks with you long after you’ve seen it for the first time. “Lost in Translation” was like that for me, for some reason. Maybe it stems from a time in my life where I was living and working in Tokyo and spent many days and nights at the very Park Hyatt this was filmed. Usually meeting with Western colleagues to de-cipher and untangle the day’s events and interchanges with my Japanese colleagues.

It had great appeal to me, despite the nature of being very much on my own there. I could relate to Murray’s character and the Japanese scenarios were almost too realistic making me cringe at points.

Perhaps that’s why “Lost in Translation” had the impact it did. Bill Murray, who plays Bob Harris, is in a strange country and cannot sleep, and he meets Charlotte, played wonderfully by Scarlett Johansson, who is also in the same situation, but almost totally alone as her new husband has other things to do.

They connect with each other out of their need to be with something familiar. Being in Japan with no English spoken, these two naturally relate and spend a lot of time together over the next few days, trying to hold onto this amazing thing they’ve found amidst their loneliness.

The movie did a superb job of bringing the audience into the emotions going on inside these two. You actually can almost feel what they are going through and how they long to just “be “ with each other.

And that brings us to the end of the movie. Bob has to leave, the filming is done on his TV commercial, and it’s time to go home and that means leaving Charlotte behind. But that’s the end really, they had no future, they were both married and their time was up. You felt their pain in ending the short relationship, but what other choice was there?

So Bob gets into his limo and is taken away, while Charlotte heads out onto the streets, back to wandering aimlessly like she did before, alone and out of place in this strange country.

But Bob stops, goes back and finds her walking.

They look at each other for a moment, and then they just hold each other. He whispers something to her, which makes her cry, makes her smile. They kiss, and she continues walking down the sidewalk, tears flowing, but a new look of happiness on her face. Bob gets into the limo and is gone.

I loved the movie, and I loved the final song in it so much that I now own the “Jesus and Mary Chain” album Psychocandy that it came from.

So the big mystery for all that saw it was this: What did he say to her?

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Some wise words of comfort from an older man that allowed her to move on? That he’d see her again? That he loved her?

Well, we now know. Someone took the scene and digitally enhanced the sentence that Bill Murray whispers to Charlotte and posted the video on YouTube. Sorry the link is no longer on YouTube.

It was hard to hear, but I think they got it right.

Now, not everyone wants to know. The way it ended was perfect in my opinion, leaving it up to us to decide what he said to her. It was fitting and obviously kept people thinking about it afterwards.

So if you don’t want to know, don’t watch the video or read on after this point. But if you do, check it out below.

Here is the final line from him again, if you didn’t watch it or want to see it again:

Bob: “I have to be leaving…but I wont let that come between us, okay?”

Charlotte: “Okay.” *gasp*

This exchange seems totally fitting to me. But the real meaning behind it will always remain a mystery. Did that mean he was coming back to her? Or was he just leaving her with hope. That in having this hope, she wouldn’t be completely miserable and lonely. Her gasp at the end was like a breath of relief escaping her, so the words he said were the right ones.

I don’t know what it means. I don’t think we ever will. They are both married, so the real guy inside me wants to think that they just return to their lives, but another part of me hopes they end up together.

What do you think? Does it make a difference knowing what he said? Am I the only one who really enjoyed this film?