It’s money that matters

Filthy lucre is today’s theme in movieland. Really, it’s every day’s theme, but it’s on my mind today.

* Nikki Finke, who actually makes money blogging, notes a pay cut for William Morris assistants, who already work ridiculously hard for the hope of decent money some day, and are expected to work a minimum of fifty hours a week. Presumably they get some overtime (though one wonders if they’re not working actually quite a bit more — Hollywood and Walmart have been known to have a few things in common in the past). They’d better because their boss’s brother is the White House chief of staff. Could get messy, otherwise.

Finke also has an interesting — inasmuch as I can follow it — look at some silver linings amidst the major studio’s fiscals clouds.

* A noted casting change in the third “Twilight” will probably not affect grosses perceptibly, but there’s no stopping those wagging tongues.

* And with all the fuss at Comic-Con, the appearance of anime genius Hiyao Miyazaki got all but ignored by the media, as far as I can tell. “Princess Mononoke” beat “Titanic” in Japan. If it had done so here, it’s fair to say he wouldn’t have been a relative afterthought.

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The Further Adventures of Ari, the Agent

If you’re like a lot of people, myself definitely included, you kind of wish “Entourage” were all about Ari the agent. The lovable a-hole played by Jeremy “insert sushi joke here” Piven.

I’ve got no “in” with the producers of the show, who may already feel they have enough Piven in their lives, but Ari Gold’s famed real-life doppelganger, super-agent Ari Emanuel, has apparently pulled off the kind of power-consolidating coup that would no doubt have his fictional equivalent furious with envy and heaping extra abuse on his long-suffering assistant, Lloyd. The short version is that his agency, Endeavor, has taken over the venerable, but declining, William Morris — once by far the world’s best known agency — and reportedly fired many of its staff while hanging on to most of Endeavor’s.

It’s just slightly like Marilyn Manson staking over Capitol Records. And, oh yeah, one of his brothers runs the White House, whose tough/manic rep could probably be the basis of an entertaining cable series of its own.

I’m an old-school guy who feels that it’s kind of an inevitable travesty that agents like Emmanuel wield as much power as they do, even if it’s now less than what they had not so long ago; I largely blame them, in part and as a group, mind you (I don’t want Ari mad at me!) for the steep decline in the quality of mainstream studio “product” since the early eighties. Of course, it’s not just agents who are behind the “filmed deal” school of moviemaking, it’s also lawyers and producers. Two more widely beloved professions.

Moreover, the references to ex-super agent Michael Ovitz, who maybe did more than anyone to enshrine a new level of douchiness as part of Hollywood culture in his day, don’t warm my heart. On the other hand, at least Ari and I have similar politics. Still, the problem of movies-as-deals rather than movies-as-movies goes back at least as far as original super-agent Lew Wasserman, who as questionable as he often was, was really only filling a power vacuum left by the decline of the studio system, and his work occasionally certainly resulted in some great movies too. (Oh, and by the way, was a purported liberal who wound up helping ex-actor Ronald Reagan to become president. Thanks for all your help to the cause, Lew.) Let’s face it, complaining about agents in Hollywood is a little bit like complaining about L.A. traffic — it’s an inevitable part of existence, an unavoidable flaw in the local ecosystem, until we figure out something better.

There’s much more to be read via Kim Masters, Sharon Waxman, and the New York Times. Anne Thompson also has a very good piece up on last week’s “Produced By” conference, including comments from Clint Eastwood, which I think is sort of related.

  

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