Tuesday, January 29, 2008

News - 01/29/08...

New WALL•E images

UpcomingPixar has posted two new images from the upcoming Disney/Pixar film WALL•E. Direct links to these images, which appeared in Entertainment Weekly Magazine and Disney Reporter respectively, can be found here and here

Bee Movie DVD extras revealed

DVDTimes has posted the artwork and extras for the upcoming Bee Movie dvd which will hit the stores on 11th March 2008. Bee Movie will be made available as a Two-Disc Special Edition and standard single-disc versions. Extras on Two-Disc Special Edition will include Jerry Seinfeld & Filmmaker Commentary, TV Juniors - Hilarious “behind the scenes” segments with Jerry Seinfeld that aired on NBeeC, Live Action Trailers, Alternate Endings, Jerry’s Flight Over Cannes, Inside The Hive: The Cast of Bee Movie, Lost Scenes with Commentary, “We Got The Bee” Music Video, and more.

Slamdance Tells Blood It's the Best Animated Short

The 14th annual Slamdance Film Festival announced the winners in three categories who will share more than $200,000 in cash and prizes. The just-concluded Festival in Park City, Utah, received over 3,500 submissions from 25 countries for less than 100 programming slots. The winner of the Grand Jury Award for Best Animated Short was Andrew McPhillips' BLOOD WILL TELL. McPhillips was awarded a $2,500 credit at Filmworks/FX. For a complete list of winners, log on to www.slamdance.com.

Nelvana Content Arrives on ReelTime.com

ReelTime.com, the video-on-demand Internet television network, announced at NATPE that it has entered into an agreement with Nelvana Enterprises for the VOD rights to episodes from its extensive kids content library.

Nelvana is known for its library of well-loved classics, such as RUPERT, BABAR, FRANKLIN, ROLIE POLIE OLIE, and THE BERENSTAIN BEARS. Its shows have won over 70 major international awards and have been broadcast in over 160 countries.


Marv Wolfman on "Raven" Mini-Series

Writer Marv Wolfman has been interviewed by Comicon.com's PULSE News about the upcoming Raven mini-series, based on the Teen Titan he co-created with artist George Perez. Wolfman discusses the recent changes to Raven's status quo and how the current comics character and the mini-series was influenced by her depiction on the Teen Titans animated show.

"Car Talk" Animated Series Announces Official Title: "As the Wrench Turns"

Tom and Ray Magliozzi, the co-hosts of National Public Radio's Car Talk, have announced the name of their new prime-time animated series coming to PBS soon : Click and Clack's As the Wrench Turns. The name was selected from numerous entries submitted by their listeners, with the winning entry submitted by Geoff Groff. Groff was interviewed by the pair and will be appearing as a character on the show.

Announced last summer, the show was scheduled for a Summer 2008 release.

Oscar Nom, More Theaters Boost "Persepolis" at Box Office

Alvin and the Chipmunks grossed $4.5 million over the weekend, which was enough to snag the CG-animated hit 11th place at North American box offices and a cumulative gross of $204 million, according to data at Box Office Mojo.

Overseas, the Chipmunks took in another $6.5 million for an international cumulative of $105.6 million.

One week after being nominated for an Oscar, Persepolis expanded from 31 theaters to 58 and picked up $350,000, giving it a per-screen average of $6,035. To date, the film has grossed $1.4 million.

The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything grossed $1.2 million for a cumulative of $10.3 million.

Enchanted and Bee Movie continue to make money overseas. Enchanted grossed $4.1 million over the weekend for a foreign cumulative of $167.2 million. Bee Movie grossed $3.1 million for an international gross of $152 million.

New Dark Knight Photos

Scooper 'Enache Tiberiu' has sent us some new photos from The Dark Knight, opening in theaters on July 18. The Christopher Nolan-directed film stars Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gary Oldman, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman.

Chris Nolan Remembers Heath

Everyone is talking and remembering Heath including his last director Christopher Nolan - who directed him in the upcoming Batman Begins sequel The Dark Knight. Nolan talked with Newsweek and laid down his thoughts on the actor:

One night, as I'm standing on LaSalle Street in Chicago, trying to line up a shot for "The Dark Knight," a production assistant skateboards into my line of sight. Silently, I curse the moment that Heath first skated onto our set in full character makeup. I'd fretted about the reaction of Batman fans to a skateboarding Joker, but the actual result was a proliferation of skateboards among the younger crew members. If you'd asked those kids why they had chosen to bring their boards to work, they would have answered honestly that they didn't know. That's real charisma—as invisible and natural as gravity. That's what Heath had.

Heath was bursting with creativity. It was in his every gesture. He once told me that he liked to wait between jobs until he was creatively hungry. Until he needed it again. He brought that attitude to our set every day. There aren't many actors who can make you feel ashamed of how often you complain about doing the best job in the world. Heath was one of them.

One time he and another actor were shooting a complex scene. We had two days to shoot it, and at the end of the first day, they'd really found something and Heath was worried that he might not have it if we stopped. He wanted to carry on and finish. It's tough to ask the crew to work late when we all know there's plenty of time to finish the next day. But everyone seemed to understand that Heath had something special and that we had to capture it before it disappeared. Months later, I learned that as Heath left the set that night, he quietly thanked each crew member for working late. Quietly. Not trying to make a point, just grateful for the chance to create that they'd given him.

Those nights on the streets of Chicago were filled with stunts. These can be boring times for an actor, but Heath was fascinated, eagerly accepting our invitation to ride in the camera car as we chased vehicles through movie traffic—not just for the thrill ride, but to be a part of it. Of everything. He'd brought his laptop along in the car, and we had a high-speed screening of two of his works-in-progress: short films he'd made that were exciting and haunting. Their exuberance made me feel jaded and leaden. I've never felt as old as I did watching Heath explore his talents. That night I made him an offer—knowing he wouldn't take me up on it—that he should feel free to come by the set when he had a night off so he could see what we were up to.

When you get into the edit suite after shooting a movie, you feel a responsibility to an actor who has trusted you, and Heath gave us everything. As we started my cut, I would wonder about each take we chose, each trim we made. I would visualize the screening where we'd have to show him the finished film—sitting three or four rows behind him, watching the movements of his head for clues to what he was thinking about what we'd done with all that he'd given us. Now that screening will never be real. I see him every day in my edit suite. I study his face, his voice. And I miss him terribly.

Back on LaSalle Street, I turn to my assistant director and I tell him to clear the skateboarding kid out of my line of sight when I realize—it's Heath, woolly hat pulled low over his eyes, here on his night off to take me up on my offer. I can't help but smile.

Mouseterpiece Theater creator Robert Cunniff dies

Robert Cunniff, the Emmy-winning TV writer and producer who created Disney's Mouseterpiece Theater, died January 20 in Brooklyn, New York after a long illness. He was 81.

In 1984, Cunniff created, produced and co-wrote the hit Disney Channel series, which featured vintage Disney cartoon shorts. The deadpan parody of Masterpiece Theater was hosted by George Plimpton, who introduced the cartoons in a hilarious spoof of Alistair Cooke. In a March 1984 article, Publisher's Weekly called the show "one of TV's finest hours."

Cunniff shared an Emmy Award with Jon Stone in 1973 for Outstanding Achievement in Children's Programming - Entertainment/Fictional. It was for his work as a writer-producer of PBS' Sesame Street. He came up with the idea for the character of "The Count."

Sesame Street's head writer from 1972 to 1975, Cunniff came up with the idea for the character of "The Count" for Muppeteer Jerry Nelson. He wrote many sketches for the show.

Cunniff appeared in a cartoon himself in The New Yorker. The weekly magazine published a cartoon portraying him using a bulletin board to plot the elements of a daily TV talk show. Unlike nearly all of the magazine's cartoons, no caption was needed.

Born Robert Rody Cunniff in Chicago on September 13, 1926, he was the eighth of nine children born to Elizabeth and Luke Cunniff, a longtime Chicago Democratic Party associate.

During the Second World War, he served in the United States Navy in the Pacific Theater. Cunniff was one of five brothers who returned from overseas military service.

He earned a master's degree in literature from the University of Chicago on the G.I. bill, then wrote for the Chicago Sun-Times and TV Guide. He was compelled to quit the latter job due to a perceived conflict of interest: he won $4,750 on the TV quiz show Break the Bank.

In 1954, Cunniff and fellow Chicagoan Tom O'Malley came out with Cunniff and O'Malley, a syndicated newspaper column about TV. The column was a success until 1957 -- when it was shut down after O'Malley reported that What's My Line panelist Dorothy Kilgallen could see through her face mask.

Cunniff came to New York in 1953 -- because, he said, he was a fan of the work of choreographer George Balanchine.

As a young writer for The Today Show, Cunniff was one of the first to bring live jazz to national television in the United States. From 1963 to 1965, he created a multi-part concert series with his idol, Duke Ellington.

From 1963 to 1969, The Today Show's head writer. He worked closely with Hugh Downs and Barbara Walters, then the first female TV anchor in the U.S.

During his tenure, The Today Show offered what was then seen as especially strong coverage for a morning show. Issues included American drug and music culture, the Vietnam war, the violent 1968 Chicago Convention and U.S. political assassinations. He also helped broad news and satellites together with the first Early Bird Satellite Broadcast. It came out from Rome, where Cunniff also wrote a speech for Pope Paul VI -- thus giving him the nickname "The Holy Ghost Writer."

Cunniff was head writer for the late-night version of The Dick Cavett Show on ABC from 1969 to 1972. In 1971, he decided to book Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal on the same show. Realizing that there'd be a battle of words, he brought in elderly, mild-mannered New Yorker writer as "referee." He also booked Salvador Dali, Lillian Gish and Satchel Paige on the same show in 1970.

While he wrote for the show, one guest died on the air (publisher J. I. Rodale, 1971) and one walked off the set in a huff (former Georgia Governor Lester Maddox, 1970). He also brought what was then a huge helping of live rock music, including Woodstock performers Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Crosby, Stills & Nash, and Joni Mitchell. Cunniff's love of film led to Ingmar Bergman and Laurence Olivier having their first appearances on an American TV talk show.

Cunniff even chose what would become known as the Cavett theme song, "Glitter & Be Gay" from Leonard Bernstein's Candide. When Cavett returned to public TV in the early 1980s and went to CNBC in the 1990s, Cunniff was an editorial force behind the scenes.

In 1976, Cunniff became the producer of Good Morning, America. He became friends with a then-obscure writer that he had hired, Broadway author Thomas Meehan (Annie, The Producers), and with actress Barbara Feldon, who sometimes hosted the show.

Cunniff was a major creative force behind dozens of late 1970s symphonic and solo productions for PBS TV's Live From Lincoln Center.

In the 1990s, he produced live TV theater for The Groundlings, a youth-oriented breakthrough comedy troupe based in Los Angeles.

Cunniff's work as a writer-producer for "magazine television" included such ABC shows as Calendar, with Harry Reasoner, in the early 1960s, and the brief 1980 revival of Omnibus.

A lifelong jazz and classical music aficionado, Cunniff served on the board of the National Endowment for the Arts.

Robert Cunniff's survivors include daughter Jill Cunniff Gregoire, lead singer of all-female rock group Luscious Jackson. She guested as herself in "Surprise," a 1996 episode of the cartoon show Space Ghost Coast to Coast.

He is also survived by son Stephen Cunniff of New York, longtime companion Kate Resek, granddaughters Chloe and Piper Gregoire and Madeline Cunniff, and brother Joseph of Chicago.

A memorial will be held Saturday, February 9 at The Unitarian Church of All Souls, 1157 Lexington Ave at 80th Street, Manhattan.

Toon Tuesday : How Pixar fixed "Finding Nemo"

Been hearing disappointing things about those "WALL*E" test screenings? Jim Hill reminds us what happened when Michael Eisner predicted that Andrew Stanton's last film would flop

It's the story that won't go away. How back in 2001, Michael Eisner reportedly told Disney's board of directors that he'd be postponing any further contract talks with Pixar Animation Studios.

"And why would the then-Chairman & CEO of the Walt Disney Company do that?," you ask. Because Eisner had just come back from a work-in-progress screening of "Finding Nemo." And he supposedly told the board that this Andrew Stanton movie was the weakest thing that Pixar had produced to date. Which is why Michael wanted to wait 'til this fish film flopped before he then re-opened negotiations with that Emeryville-based animation studio.

You see, Eisner believed that it would be far easier for Disney's attorneys to get Steve Jobs to agree to much more favorable terms if Pixar were coming off of its first "reality check." Which is why he wanted to put off any talk of an extension of their co-production deal for a year or so.

But then when "Finding Nemo" opened in theaters nationwide on May 30, 2003, it became this huge critical & financial success. For a time, that Academy Award-winning film was even the top grossing animated feature of all time ... At least until "Shrek 2" came along and knocked off that clownfish's crown.

Copyright 2002 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

And as for Eisner ... Many people (Roy Disney included) used Michael's "Finding Nemo" box office prediction as an indication of how truly out-of-touch Disney's Big Cheese had become. Which helped speed Eisner's fall from power.

But here's the thing: Michael Eisner wasn't actually wrong about "Finding Nemo." At least not when it comes to the shape that this Pixar production was in back in the Fall of 2001.

Back then, this Andrew Stanton film was in awful shape. It was saddled with at least one too many plotlines, one lead character that had a rather unappealing secret as well as another character who was desperately in need of a new voice.

As for "Nemo" 's extraneous plotline ... Early on, Stanton wanted to keep moviegoers in the dark for long as possible about why Marlin was so over-protective, why Nemo had this damaged fin. Which is why he initially tried to handle this father & son's tragic backstory through a series of flashbacks.

As Andrew explained on the visual commentary track of the "Finding Nemo" DVD:

Andrew Stanton with the Oscar that "Finding Nemo" won
for Best Animated Feature. Copyright 2004 Academy
of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and ABC, Inc.
All Rights Reserved

Earlier (on), we had flashbacks. And we were going to dole them out, this whole backstory. We were just going to tell a little bit at a time ... And you'd get these little windows of the past ... And it was all leading up to this tragic event with the barracuda.

So why did Stanton eventually decide to discard this rather stylistic way of revealing of how exactly Coral died, how all of Nemo's brothers & sisters got eaten?

Ultimately what made it fall apart was there was nothing big to reveal at the end. There was no "Ah Ha!" or surprise slant to it ... By the time you were getting near the end of the movie, you kind of suspected what the tragedy was. (Which is why we decided to) remove the flashbacks and just (reveal the barracuda attack) right up front. Which is what almost every Film 101 book tells you to do.

Mind you, it took a couple of passes before Stanton finally came up with an opening for "Finding Nemo" that hit all of the right emotional beats. One that made Coral being eaten by the barracuda, the destruction of most of the eggs in the nest " ... powerful and yet not overly brutal." After all, Andrew's initial intent was to have the audience bond as quickly as possible with Marlin & Nemo.

Which is why -- for a time anyway -- "Finding Nemo" opened with the Father clownfish telling his son a bedtime story. And as Coral's death, that was explained away in a single poignant exchange between Marlin & Nemo.

Copyright 2003 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

NEMO : And then the ocean took Mommy away?

MARLIN : (Rueful) That's right. It did.

But in the end, the quickest way to get moviegoers to care about the two clownfish was to actually show the tragedy that bonded these characters together. Which is why "Finding Nemo" eventually opened with that barracuda attack on Marlin & Coral's anemone.

FYI: That opening sequence was not in the work-in-progress film that Michael Eisner saw back in 2001. He saw a version of "Finding Nemo" which opened with Nemo's first day of school. Where Marlin was already twitchy and over-protective, but you didn't initially understand why the Father clownfish constantly hovered over his son. Which made that character rather difficult to like.

And Marlin wasn't the only "Finding Nemo" character that audiences initially had trouble warming up to. Early on, Gill (i.e. The leader of the Tank Gang) was also a very unlikable character.

Copyright 2003 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

But that was only because Stanton wanted to reveal that this angelfish (Which the young clownfish had begun looking up to as a possible replacement for his father) was no angel. In a now-deleted scene from "Finding Nemo," Nemo was supposed to discover that Gill's colorful backstory (i.e. That Gill grew up in Bad Luck Bay and had four brothers -- Marco, Polo, Lester & Linus -- & one sister -- Lulu) had actually been cribbed from a children's storybook that P. Sherman made available to patients waiting in his lobby.

Copyright 2003 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

Copyright 2003 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

And while making Gill a liar was an interesting story choice for the leader of the Tank Gang, it also confused "Finding Nemo" 's test audiences. They couldn't decide whether they should still root for this angelfish's escape plan. More importantly, they wondered if they could really trust Gill to keep Nemo safe during his time in the dentist's office.

Realizing that they unintentionally complicated the middle portion of their movie, Stanton and his story team eventually dropped the whole Gill-stole-his-backstory-from-a-children's-book idea and just made this angelfish a determined loner who would do whatever he had to in order to escape from P. Sherman's seawater aquarium. Which then brought an emotional clarity to Act 2 of "Finding Nemo."

But -- again -- that's not what Michael Eisner saw. He saw a version of "Finding Nemo" where Gill was this charismatic but delusional character. Where Nemo didn't know who to trust while he was stuck in that aquarium, waiting for his father to come rescue him.

Speaking of Marlin ... One of the other reasons that Disney's then-Chairman & CEO wasn't all that enthusiastic about "Finding Nemo" was the actor that Andrew initially hired to provide the voice of the Father clownfish. William H. Macy's vocal performance in this role just lacked ... something. Though this award-winning performer tried his damnest, he just couldn't make Marlin a character that you cared about. Which is why Stanton was eventually forced to recast this role.

And as for the actor that Andrew eventually did hire to play the Father clownfish, the "Finding Nemo" director had this to say about that performer:

Albert Brooks. He absolutely saved this picture. He is exactly what I needed this father character to be. You needed someone who was neurotic, over-protective but still appealing throughout. And that is one of Albert's gifts. That he can sort of play both. Usually it's such an off-putting thing. But he just makes it so winning.

(L to R) Ellen Degeneres, Alexander Gould and Albert Brooks at
the premiere of "Finding Nemo." Photo by Dan Steinberg.
Copyright 2003 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

But -- again -- the version of "Finding Nemo" that Michael Eisner saw didn't have Albert Brooks performing the voice of Marlin. But rather William H. Macy. Who's a very talented man but not the right guy if you're looking for the proper performer to voice an over-protective clownfish.

You getting where I'm going yet? That the version of "Finding Nemo" that Michael Eisner saw back in 2001 was pretty bad. Which is why the then-Chairman & CEO of the Walt Disney Company was right to feel the way that he did. Michael genuinely believed that he was looking at Pixar's first flop. Which is why Eisner felt justified in telling Disney's board of directors what he told them.

But Pixar Animation Studios ... They had the time (More importantly, the talent in-house) to make all of the changes necessary to turn "Finding Nemo" into a hit. Which is why that Andrew Stanton film was such a huge success when it finally rolled into theaters in May of 2003.

"So why bring this up now?," you query ... Well, "WALL-E" has had several test screenings over the past six months. And while audiences have supposedly fallen in love with the movie's title character, they have also reportedly raised some concerns about this new Andrew Stanton film. Which allegedly has been described " ... as the darkest motion picture that Pixar has ever produced."

Copyright 2008 Disney / Pixar. All Rights Reserved

Among the issues that these test audiences have supposedly cited are "WALL-E" 's depressing settings (i.e. The first act of this film is set on Earth 700 years from now, where -- thanks to humanity's wasteful ways -- our planet is now basically one big trash heap floating in space) as well as the picture's depiction of people (i.e. In the future, mankind has grown so slothful that everyone weighs 500 pounds and has lost the ability to walk on their own. Which is why we all make use of these devices that look like floating barcaloungers).

So should we be at all concerned about the somewhat negative comments that have been coming out of these early "WALL-E" test screenings? Is this new Andrew Stanton film -- which obviously pokes fun at today's consumeristic society -- really going to have a tough time finding an audience during summer blockbuster season?

I say ... That we should probably pay attention to the hard lesson that Michael Eisner learned back in 2001. Which is that it's really not wise to predict how a new Pixar film will do based on the work-in-progress version of that particular picture. Which is why you may want to discount any rumors that you may have heard about disappointing "WALL*E" test screenings.

Don't worry. They've got time. They can fix it.

Iron Man Super Bowl Spot to be Everywhere

Looks like you won't have trouble finding the Iron Man Super Bowl TV spot online after it airs during the big game. Check out this bit from the Wall Street Journal:

Paramount Pictures is using its ad spending to promote the May release of superhero film "Iron Man." People who watch the game on TV will see a commercial for the movie. People who visit any of the major online Super Bowl ad polls will also see the spot. Visitors to MySpace can see an Iron Man profile on the site. And if people search for terms related to Iron Man on Google, it will turn up there as well. On ESPN.com, ads will show the TV spot and prompt visitors to go to the "Iron Man" Web site to register for downloads and giveaways.

Quaid, Vosloo Board G.I. Joe

Dennis Quaid and Arnold Vosloo have joined director Stephen Sommers' G.I. Joe cast, according to Variety and IESB.net.

Quaid will play General Hawk, the grizzled team leader, and Arnold Vosloo will play Zartan, a mercenary who works with Destro and Cobra. The action-adventure, coming to theaters on August 7, 2009, is scheduled to shoot next month in Los Angeles.

The two join the previously-announced Channing Tatum (Duke), Ray Park (Snake Eyes), Marlon Wayans (Ripcord), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Rex), Rachel Nichols (Scarlett), Sienna Miller (The Baroness), Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje Heavy Duty), Said Taghmaoui (Breaker) abd Byung-hun Lee (Storm Shadow) in the live-action feature.

Lorenzo di Bonaventura, who is coming off Transformers, is producing with Brian Goldner. Latter is the point person for Hasbro's venerable action figure line. Sommers and partner Bob Ducsay are also involved in producing capacities. Stuart Beattie wrote the most recent script draft.

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