Wednesday, July 29, 2009

News - 07/29/09...

Green Lantern’s Feature Debut Comes Home

The leading light of animated DVD releases this week is Green Lantern: First Flight, a DC Universe original animated feature starring the emerald avenger of comic book fame.

The movie, directed by Lauren Montgomery and produced by Bruce Timm and Bobbie Page, First Flight (Warner Bros., $19.98 DVD, $24.98 Special Edition DVD, $29.99 Blu-ray) was a hit last week in a world premiere screening at Comic-Con in San Diego. With a live-action movie in the works and the Blackest Night storyline building up steam in the comic books, Green Lantern appears poised to break out of the pack in the next few years.

On the VFX front, fans can finally complete their collections with the release of Battlestar Galactica: Season 4.5 (Universal, $49.95 DVD, $69.68 Blu-ray) and — for those who want to watch from the start — Battlestar Galactica: The Complete Series (Universal, $279.98 DVD, $349.98 Blu-ray).

Also out this week is Torchwood: Children of Earth (Warner Bros., $29.98 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray), a five-part miniseries that just aired on BBC America; and the live-action anime adaptation Dragonball: Evolution (Fox, $27.98 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray).

Other animated releases out this week include Spectacular Spider-Man: The Complete First Season (Sony, $25.95), The Animation of Alexeieff (Facets Multimedia, $39.95), Astonishing Work of Tezuka Osamu (Kino, $29.95), Bill Plympton's Dog Days (Microcinema, $24.95) and Super Why: Jack and the Beanstalk (PBS, $14.99).

(Thanks Animation Magazine)

Fantastic Mr. Fox To Open London Festival

Wes Anderson’s stop-motion animated feature Fantastic Mr. Fox will open The Times BFI London Film Festival in October.

The screening will be the world premiere of the movie, which is the first animated feature film Anderson has made, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The festival, now in its 53rd edition, runs Oct. 14-29.

Anderson wrote the film with Noah Baumbach, adapting the children’s story by Roald Dahl of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory fame. It features the voices of George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Willem Dafoe and Owen Wilson.

The film is set to debut in the United Kingdom in October, followed by a U.S. release in November.

(Thanks Animation Magazine)

Disney XD Goes Live in U.K. Aug. 31

Disney XD, the boy-focused rebranding of the company’s Jetix channel, will go live Aug. 31 in the United Kingdom.

The channel will launch with an airing of the live-action series Aaron Stone. The channel also will air the animated series Phineas and Ferb, Iron Man: Armored Adventures and Pokemon DP: Battle Dimension, as well as movies such as Pirates of the Caribbean and the animated Meet the Robinsons.

“Boys, like girls, place incredibly high standards on their entertainment choices. They demand complex, multi-faceted characters that, while not perfect, are smart, selfless, determined and brave. Disney XD will deliver those kinds of characters and stories in a wide range of formats – animation, live action, movies and sports and it will focus on the core value of accomplishment,” says Boel Ferguson, general manager for Disney Channels UK & Ireland.

(Thanks Animation Magazine)

E-on Demos Vue 8 at SIGGRAPH

Oregon-based e-on Software will preview Vue 8, the latest version of its software package for creating, animating and rendering natural 3-D environments, at the upcoming SIGGRAPH conference in New Orleans.

The new version’s features include unrivaled natural scenery creation, precise artistic control, leading edge performance, vivid realism and immersive interoperability.

It also will feature several new technologies, including 3D terrain sculpting, directional displacement, the third generation of e-on's Spectral atmospheric engine technology and distributed bucket rendering.

The software will be on display at the company’s booth, #2909.

(Thanks Animation Magazine)

Harry Potter and the Office of Unemployment

I haven’t seen a new piece of animation by stop-motion animator Corky Quackenbush in what seems like forever, so I was pleasantly surprised to run across his latest: Harry Potter and the Office of Unemployment.

I also found this “sex and violence” reel with clips from Quakenbush’s familiar classics along with newer works that I hadn’t seen. Family Guy could stand to take a lesson from Corky about what it means to be edgy and outrageous.

For more about Corky, visit his charmingly outdated website

(Thanks cartoon brew)

Comic-Con: DC Animated DVD Sequel in Development

During the press roundtable interviews for Green Lantern: First Flight, Toon Zone was able to speak with DC Animation producer, Bruce Timm. When asked about possible sequels for the previously released animated DVD features, Timm stated that one was actually in development, but could not say more at the time. We'll have more from the Bruce Timm session later.

D23 Expo buttons & ‘bots kept the crowds coming back for more at Comic-Con

Jim Hill shares some of Nancy Stadler’s shots from Booth 3917. Which is where the Official Community of Disney Fans had set up shop in the San Diego Convention Center

So how crowded was it at this year’s Comic-Con? So crowded that – as you walked past the Fox booth in the exhibit hall – you were halfway tempted to “borrow” Wolverine’s adamantium claws (FYI: this wax X-Men is just one of the figures that will be on display at Madame Tussands Hollywood. Which opens this coming Saturday right next door to Grauman’s Chinese Theatre). Just so you could then clear a path by hacking your way through all those other people who are blocking the aisles.

Photo by Nancy Stadler

Mind you, there were places where it was actually nice to see a crowd. And one of those spots was directly in front of the D23 booth.

Photo by Nancy Stadler

Now I know that the folks behind the Official Community for Disney Fans were kind of sweating Comic-Con. Wondering what sort of overlap (if any) there’d be between the worlds of Disneyana enthusiasts and that of comic book collectors & sci-fi fans.

So to insure that their booth would actually appeal to the Comic-Con crowd, D23 managers dug down deep in the Walt Disney Archives and unearthed the miniature versions of V.I.N.C.E.N.T., Old B.O.B. and Maximilian that were used in production of “The Black Hole.”

(L to R) V.I.N.C.E.N.T., Maximilian and Old B.O.B. models on display at the D23 booth at this year’s Comic-Con. Photo by Nancy Stadler

They also had one of the Studio’s staff artists create this limited edition litho. Which features 10 of Disney & Pixar’s more memorable mechanical men grouped together for a one-time-only portrait.

Copyright 2009 Disney Enterprises, Inc.

But as it turns out, over the course of this 4+ day show, thousands of people did come by D23’s Comic-Con booth. Not to gawk at the Rocketeer costume that was display …

Photo by Nancy Stadler

… complete with the X-3 jet pack that was used in the production of this 1991 Joe Johnston film.

Photo by Nancy Stadler

And it wasn’t the costume that Michael Crawford wore when shooting “Condorman” for Walt Disney Productions back in 1981 …

Photo by Nancy Stadler

… or the somewhat more flattering suit that Kurt Russell wore when he was playing the Commander in Walt Disney Pictures’ Summer 2003 release, “Sky High” ...

Photo by Nancy Stadler

… that kept the crowds coming back to Booth 3917. Oh, sure. Lots of folks came by to scope out that TRONcostume …

Photo by Nancy Stadler

… including the director of the first “TRON,” Steven Lisberger. Who initially expressed his doubts that the throwing disc that was on display inside of this glass case was actually one of the ones used in production of this 1982 film.

“It’s too clean & new-looking,” Lisberger supposedly said. But the D23 staffers who were working in Booth 3917 assured Steven that this throwing disc was authentic. The only reason that this prop looked so pristine was that this particular disc had been a costume piece (i.e. attached to the back of that character from “TRON”) rather than a really-for-real throwing disc.

No, the real reason that Comic-Con attendees kept coming back to this booth was because they wanted to pick up a complete set of those D23 Expo buttons that Disney staffers were giving away.

Photo by Nancy Stadler

Not to mention picking up an advance copy of the Fall issue of Disney twenty-three magazine. Which features a terrific cover story on Disneyland’s The Haunted Mansion as well as a heartfelt tribute to that late, great Disney Legend, Wayne Allwine.

Copyright 2009 Disney Enterprises, Inc.

It’s those sorts of things that kept people coming back to Booth 3917 throughout this year’s Comic-Con. With many of these attendees then expressing an interest in attending the very first D23 Expo.

Photo by Nancy Stadler

So – all in all – it was a very busy 4+ days in San Diego. With the D23 folks getting all sorts of practical experience when it comes to dealing with extremely large numbers of people. Which – given how fast those 4-day passes to the D23 Expo have supposedly been selling – is probably going to come in handy at the Anaheim Convention Center September 10th – 13th.


It happens to be one of the ticking time bombs threatening the long-term viability of MovieLand:

"I think at the moment it's a strange time to be a filmmaker, because there's a sense of depression in the industry," [director Peter] Jackson said Friday ...

"Studios feel DVDs are down and piracy is up, and the entire industry is being as defensive as they possibly can, which leads to movies not being as exciting as they possibly can be ..."

Excitement won't count for much if motion pictures get downloaded digitally and sold as pirated DVDs. TAG's mother international (the IATSE) has been pounding home the message that directors, actors, writers and below-the-line filmmakers will be screwed, blued and searching for alternate employment if the DVD market goes the way of recorded CDs (which even now are halfway to the dark oblivion of vinyl records. CD sales are down 20% over the last year alone.) IA President Matt Loeb said:

"Pirated DVDs are being sold by the trainload, costing the film industry hundreds of millions of dollars, costing film workers thousands of jobs. It would be a disaster if entertainment conglomerates end up like record companies, suing twelve-year-olds for downloading songs. Studios, unions and guilds have to work together to stop the theft now occurring around the world ..."

A couple of things to keep in mind: broadband is moving to more areas of the country and globe, making feature motion pictures as easy to swipe as music MP3 files. And counterfeit DVDs are easy to churn out and sell. This isn't a problem that's diminishing anytime soon, or going away.

Ultimately the solution regarding purloined films could be to tax the delivery systems -- internet and blank disks -- to collect royalties due to companies and workers. Since we live in a corporatist state, it seems like a simple and natural solution.

(Thanks Animation Guild Blog)

Animation in the Land of David

The animation biz in Israel is small, but it's happening and it's growing.

Israeli animation artist Alex Orrelle ... (“The Incredibles,” “Finding Nemo,” and “Monsters Inc.”) ... is back in Tel Aviv, where he opened his own studio in 2005. His company, Crew 972, is competing for business in Europe and Hollywood ...

... Today, the local Israeli industry is dependent on a small core of freelancers, which Chissick says is growing steadily.

“If you look at the number of people working at the moment and the number of courses there are, the industry has grown four times compared to what it was eight years ago,” David Chissick [of investment company Chissick and Co.] said .. .

Israel's animation industry is tiny, but the indy Waltz with Bashir provided it with an energizing kick in the backside. But anyway. And what's "tiny" anyway if it's providing you with a steady gig and livable salary?

The important thing here is that a number of Israeli animation studios are beginning to get some traction. The reason this is important to the American cartoon biz is that, more and more often, animators leave the U.S. to advance their art in overseas venues. California's animation artists already work in China, in New Zealand, in France and Britain and Spain and a dozen other countries.

And now Israel. Because year by year animation becomes less of a local business and more a global one .

(Thanks Animation Guild Blog)

Organizing Pixar

Coming out of a IA meeting tonight, I was buttonholed by two San Francisco union reps who wanted to know what I know about Pixar, and what I thought the odds were of getting the studio under a union contract. I told them:

John Lasseter and Ed Catmull have less than zero interest in seeing Pixar become a union studio. They ... A) have more flexibility without a labor contract and B) neither of them particularly like unions.

There is no way to stand out in front of the studio and leaflet; people drive in, they don't walk. There is no widespread employee discontent that an organizing drive could build on. My take has always been: any studio can stay non-union by treating its employees decently. And Pixar -- as far as I can tell -- treats its employees decently (at least, decently enough.)

All of this could change if the Writers Guild of America (west) makes a concerted effort to organize Pixar writers and board artists and appears to be making progress, the Disney Co. will probably beat a path to the IATSE's door to get Pixar under a union contract.

I am, you see, a classical cynic. I could have stood there and told the Bay Area reps some encouraging, optimistic twaddle, but why bother? Better to lay out the way it is.

(Thanks Animation Guild Blog)

The Monsters Question

The L.A. Times inquires:

"Monsters vs. Aliens" sold a healthy $198 million worth of tickets in the U.S. and Canada, but only $179 million worth of tickets overseas. It's the first time that a DreamWorks Animation picture has earned less money at the box office in foreign countries than domestically, ... [W]hy[?] ...

The Times offers a few theories, but I think the answer is simple. MvA is specifically, quintessentially American: San Francisco. Area 51. American military. American President.

The rest of the world just isn't as enthralled with the U.S. of A. as the U.S.A. is.

(Thanks Animation Guild Blog)

Brazilian Animators Crank Up the Voltage

Voltage is Filippe Lyra and William Paiva’s new animated short which looks at the relationships of musical devices like modular synthesizers as an analogy to human interaction. The short was produced at Barros Melo Animation Studio in Brazil.

Water Brain Bubbles Up From Chinese Studio

Water Brain is a bizarre new CG film from the Chinese team at Ani7ime Studio. Okay, perhaps bizarre isn’t a fair description. The 13-minute film follows brutish monsters that feed off the brain steam of freightened children. I suppose that’s a bit like Monsters Inc. Water Brain begins with some childish-looking 2D animation, and then the balance of the film was rendered in CG.

Super Baozi vs. Sushi Man Animation

Chinese animator Haipeng Sun has wrapped production a new animated short, which was inspired by the great Bruce Lee. But instead of two, sweaty ninjas - Sun has pitted a baozi (a Chinese dumpling) versus a sushi roll. Round one - fight!

Ice Age Enters Record Books

A fact that took me by surprise: Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs is now the fifth-highest grossing animated feature of all-time at the worldwide box office. Here’s the list:

1. Shrek 2 - $919.8 million
2. Finding Nemo - $864.6 million
3. Shrek the Third - $799 million
4. The Lion King - $783.8 million
5. Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs - $673.5 million

The film has performed phenomenally overseas, pulling in excess of $500 million from foreign markets. This Variety article mentions that the film is on its way to becoming the top-grossing animated feature at the foreign box office, surpassing the current title holder, Pixar’s Finding Nemo ($524 million).

I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that the reason for the film’s box office success isn’t because the entire world loves Ray Romano, but rather that the world loves Scrat, a refreshing cartoon creation whose appeal stems from his personality and mannerisms instead of his dialogue (a virtually unheard of innovation in contemporary animation).

The episode of Simon’s Cat I posted yesterday couldn’t be more different in style and tone than Ice Age, but at its core, I think the success of both of these cartoons revolves around an understanding that audiences still enjoy watching funny and appealing visually-driven cartoon characters.

(Thanks cartoon brew)

Little Rikke

One of the saddest things about the current deconstruction of Cartoon Network is the bits and pieces of pilots and projects being leaked that point to what could have been. Animator Stephane Coedel has posted these charming opening and closing title sequences for a CN rejected pilot created by Rikke Asbjorn.

Little Rikke was co-directed by Rikke Asbjorn and Chris Garbutt
- Character design: Rikke Asbjorn
- Storyboard: Chris Garbutt
- Backgrounds: Sylvain Marc
- Character animation: Rikke Asbjorne, Sylvain Marc, Ben Marsaud
- Compositing, animation, sound supervision: Stephane Coedel.
-Development team of concept: Rikke Asbjoern, Chris Garbutt, Alan Kerswell, Dave Needham, Charlie Bean, Sylvain Marc.

(Thanks cartoon brew)

Bloomberg News on "Waltz with Bashir" Impact on Israeli Animation Industry

Bloomberg News has taken note of the positive impact that the animated documentary Waltz with Bashir has had on Israel's nascent animation industry, with a growing number of studios and animators producing animation in the country and drawing an estimated $100 million in investments over the past five years. The growth in animation is also being fueled by the general strength of Israel's technology industry, and even benefits from applying military technology to filmmaking, such as with one of the first real-time three-dimensional cameras adapted from cruise missiles.

New Astro Boy images now live

Summit Entertainment and Imagi have released new images from their upcoming 3-D animated Astro Boy, which you can view after the jump.

Meanwhile, the official Web site has been updated with an interactive timeline tracing Astro Boy's nearly 60-year history.

The original Astro Boy TV series, based on the 1952 manga by Osamu Tezuka, is often credited as the first anime-style film. Like the original series, the new English-language movie centers on the origins of the robot boy who was created by a scientist who had lost his real son. Freddie Highmore voices Astro, and Kristen Bell voices Cora, a street urchin who befriends him. Astro Boy opens Oct. 23. (Click the images to enlarge.)

Paramount developing Rats of NIMH movie

The Secret of NIMH

Paramount is developing a new feature-film version of the award-winning children's tale Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, which was previously adapted in 1982 by Don Bluth as the animated The Secret of NIMH, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Director Neil Burger (The Illusionist) is in talks to write the screenplay. Here's what the trade paper said:

Robert C. O'Brien's Rats of NIMH won the Newbery Medal in 1972 and has been a staple in children's bookstores and libraries since. The story centers on a mouse—the titular Mrs. Frisby, re-named Mrs. Brisby in the MGM movie—faced with a crisis when her son falls ill and she must move her family to escape a farmer's plow.

Mrs. Frisby enlists a group of former lab rats, whom she soon discovers run a highly evolved society, who possess advanced technologies and divide labor in the manner of a human community.

Watch Johnny Depp in the Alice in Wonderland trailer!

We've got the trailer for Tim Burton's upcoming psychedelic Alice in Wonderland movie, which generated a lot of positive buzz at Comic-Con last week.

The trailer includes much of the footage previewed in 3-D at Comic-Con.

Here's how the studio describes the movie:

From Walt Disney Pictures and visionary director Tim Burton comes an epic 3-D fantasy adventure Alice in Wonderland, a magical and imaginative twist on some of the most beloved stories of all time. Johnny Depp stars as the Mad Hatter and Mia Wasikowska as 19-year-old Alice, who returns to the whimsical world she first encountered as a young girl, reuniting with her childhood friends: the White Rabbit, Tweedledee and Tweedledum, the Dormouse, the Caterpillar, the Cheshire Cat and of course, the Mad Hatter. Alice embarks on a fantastical journey to find her true destiny and end the Red Queen's reign of terror. The all-star cast also includes Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter and Crispin Glover.

Capturing the wonder of Lewis Carroll's beloved "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" (1865) and "Through the Looking-Glass" (1871) with stunning, avant-garde visuals and the most charismatic characters in literary history, Alice in Wonderland comes to the big screen in Disney Digital 3D on March 5, 2010.

Kick-Ass wowed Comic-Con; will distribution follow?

Aaron Johnson is Dave Lizewski

One of the must talked-about previews at last weekend's Comic-Con in San Diego was Kick-Ass, a satirically violent adaptation of the comic-book series by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr.

But will the buzz translate to distribution? The independent movie is still seeking someone to release it, but in light of the film's Comic-Con reception, director and stars are confident.

Nicolas Cage is Big Daddy and Chloe Moretz is Hit Girl

A preview of footage from the movie clearly wowed the Comic-Con audience, giving any studio executive good reason to want to make a bid.

"We got two standing ovations," director Matthew Vaughn told a group of reporters in San Diego afterward. "I got told no one got a standing ovation today. So we got two of them. Pretty good." (Actually, Iron Man 2 later got a standing ovation as well.)

Vaughn showed clips of 11-year-old Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz) slicing and dicing bad guys to a bloody pulp and dodging bullets as a training exercise from her father, Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage). A studio would have to be crazy not to want that, but Vaughn takes nothing for granted. "Spend time in Hollywood," he lamented.

"You have to ask the studios," Vaughn added. "Look, were you guys in the room? If they would buy it because of the reaction, then I'll have a deal in about 25 minutes. But I doubt that. I don't know. I mean, the reaction was [unbelievable]. I sat there at first thinking this is going to be a Candid Camera moment, where somebody jeers and throws eggs or something. They loved it. I mean, really, they asked to see the clips again. So it was good."

The film's co-stars felt more confident that their film would hit cineplexes thanks to a kindly studio offering to release Kick-AssBold for modest financial compensation. Christopher Mintz-Plasse, who plays the film's Red Mist, said in a separate group interview, "I don't want to just say, 'Oh, yeah, it's going to get it,' but I'd feel very comfortable after what I saw. I couldn't see how if anyone was in there and heard the audience, they'd go, 'No, we don't want to buy that.'"

Clark Duke, who plays Marty, shared his co-star's confidence. "I don't want to jinx it, but I can't imagine it not getting [distribution]," Duke said. "It got a standing ovation, but you never know."

Kick-Ass centers on an average teenager, Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson), who feels compelled to assume a superhero identity. He is so unsuccessful that he is stabbed and run over nearly to death, at least at first. That is not the kind of origin story a big studio usually endorses.

"I'm bored of seeing the same movie made again and again, with a different name and a different actor," Vaughn said. "I just thought, you know, I read the comic, and I just knew that I could make a film that was different, but commercial and fun. So I decided to go do it."

Vaughn, who previously directed Layer Cake and the graphic-novel adaptation Stardust, put his own spin on the Millar/Romita tale. "Well, they made the comic, I made the movie," Vaughn said. "But they're joined at the hip. It was very collaborative. So I think I put a bit more humor into it than ... is in the comic. I definitely put more humor into it than the comic, actually."

If the film gets distribution and becomes a big hit, Vaughn has plans for more Kick-Ass films. "If the film works well, there's a sequel that I definitely want to do," he said.

For now, Vaughn still has a bit more work to do on the first Kick-Ass before he could even deliver it to a potential distributor. "We're doing the final mix in the first week of October, and then it's done," he said. "I think we'll come out first quarter of next year, if we get distribution."

Director on what the long-delayed release has meant for Trick 'r Treat

Michael Dougherty, the director of the buzzworthy but yet-to-be-released genre-bending horror movie Trick 'r Treat, hit Comic-Con in San Diego again to tout the movie, with the home stretch in sight: a release date sometime this October.

"We have a month," Dougherty told SCI FI Wire in an exclusive interview. "Yeah, we're told October. But don't have a specific date yet."

Why not?

"Well, I mean there're four Tuesdays in October, so it's bound to be one of them," he said. "I would prefer an early October date, because I think that gives the film the time to pick up steam. That I think it needs. Because I think this is a movie which—it's already got great word of mouth, thank God, but I think when it really hits ... the Wal-marts and the Amazons, ... it's going to take good word of mouth amongst the general population for it to really get out there."

It's been a long slog to get the Halloween-themed movie before the public, though it was finished two years ago and has garnered rave reviews in preview screenings. We've seen it, and we've been singing its praises for months now and are eager to see it finally get a release.

Here's how Warner Brothers—the studio that produced Trick 'r Treat with Legendary Pictures—describes the movie, which marks Superman Returns co-writer Dougherty's feature-film-directing debut. It weaves four stories together:

"It is said that Halloween is the night when the dead rise to walk among us and other unspeakable things roam free. The rituals of All Hallows' Eve were devised to protect us from their evil mischief, and one small town is about to be taught a terrifying lesson that some traditions are best not forgotten. Nothing is what it seems when a suburban couple learns the dangers of blowing out a jack-o'-lantern before midnight; four women cross paths with a costumed stalker at a local festival; a group of pranksters goes too far and discovers the horrifying truth buried in a local legend; and a cantankerous old hermit is visited by a strange trick-or-treater with a few bones to pick. Costumes and candy, ghouls and goblins, monsters and mayhem: ... The tricks and treats of Halloween turn deadly as strange creatures of every variety—human and otherwise—try to survive the scariest night of the year."

Following is an edited version of our talk with Dougherty about Trick 'r Treat, which stars Anna Paquin, Brian Cox, Tahmoh Penikett, Dylan Baker and Leslie Bibb.

It's been this arduous process to do this thing.

You're telling me.

Anna Paquin

You've had the screenings and the buzz is always great for this movie. Whenever you show it, people are like, "Why aren't you letting this movie out?"

You know what? I think, "Yo, go ask Warner Brothers." No, I take that back. It's a quirky horror movie. It's not an easy sell. ... It's not a remake. It's not an adaptation. It is probably a dangerous mix of all the elements a film studio typically shies away from. You have anthology format, which has been a dead format for 15 years at least. You have horror comedy, you know, two genres that studio people tend to get very nervous about mixing, because the results are always unpredictable. So, you know, it's not a sure bet. It's not five ... twentysomethings pretending to be 17-year-olds going out in the wilderness and getting slaughtered one by one. It is a very different beast. ...

I remember having a conversation with, you know, an executive who shall remain nameless about this, and he said, "Oh, it's a horror movie." And I said, "Well, yeah." He goes, "Well, we'll target the Saw and the Hostel demographic." And I said, "No, no, no, that's not them." "Well but they're the horror audience." "No, they're not this horror audience." ... Horror itself isn't just a genre. There's so many subgenres to it, just like there's so many types of comedy. You have your Wayans Brothers comedies and you have your Judd Apatow comedies. Very different audiences. And so ... sometimes it can be difficult to try to explain horror as a genre to people.

Do you think they're starting to get it, though?

Oh, yeah, totally. Totally. The studio's been fantastic lately because ... I think they really saw what it is, they understood that it's a cult film, in a way. That there actually is a very target specific audience, specific target audience to build from. You know, Comic-Con being a perfect example of people who love films—love genre films specifically—but are also open to different types of quirky, weird movies. I think the consensus is that if it's meant for the mall audience, then it does have to rely upon a certain amount of conventions. I don't know if that's true necessarily, but last year Let the Right One In was one of my favorite films. Great vampire movie. Would that play in middle America? No idea. ...

I think the upside of it is that it's had a really long time to build word of mouth. I'm a big believer that if you're going to do marketing, sometimes it's best to have a really long marketing campaign. I actually feel like District 9's campaign has been really brilliant, because they started planting their "For Humans Only" signs a year ago at Comic-Con. ...

So I think it's kind of nice that a little film like this has had the opportunity to kind of build word of mouth and buzz for literally two years. And you, know, create this question mark of where is it, how can I get it, and finally we're giving them an answer.

It probably doesn't hurt that Anna Paquin's on TV every week.

Yeah, True Blood, I think, I think the timing for that is fantastic. ... It's kind of funny. I love the show, too. I think it's very similar in that it's very quirky, tongue-in-cheek horror. So I think that it helps that the show is good, she's in it, and that she's got a brand-new fan base of people who love her in this kind of genre.

What Peter Jackson plans for the two Hobbit movies and why

Today producer/director Peter Jackson talks about The Hobbit films, updates us on their status, debunks a few rumors and talks about what the two movies will actually encompass and why.

Among the highlights: The script for the first film is about three weeks away; no casting has been decided; the two movies will encompass the story in the book and won't be one movie about the book and a second to bridge the period between The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring, as has been speculated; and the films will draw in narratives from the same era as told in other writings.

This is part two of our group interview with Jackson from Comic-Con in San Diego last week; part one, about The Lovely Bones, posted yesterday, and part three, about his upcoming sci-fi action movie District 9, posts tomorrow.

Jackson first talked about his decision to hire Guillermo del Toro to direct the two movies, based on J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy book and precursor to The Lord of the Rings.

"Guillermo's there not because I'm a mentor of him, but I just thought he would do a terrific job with that film," Jackson said. "It wasn't the type of movie I [wanted] to give to a young, novice filmmaker and have them sort of godfather it through. I wanted someone who ... was established, who I could trust with it. ... With The Hobbit, I really don't want to ... be too involved in looking over the shoulder of the director."

Jackson added that he chose not to direct the films himself for a specific reason: "So I didn't have to compete against myself," he said. "Because with the Lord of the Rings movies I did make, those were the very best films that I could make, given the circumstances and everything else. ... I poured my heart and soul into those films, and I just thought that I'd given everything I could to The Lord of the Rings, and now, with The Hobbit, I'd have to go there again, and now I'd be competing against myself. And how did I shoot Hobbiton the first time around? And how did I shoot Gandalf coming through the door? Now I'd have to look back at what I did the first time and do something different. Or not. And suddenly I could just imagine myself having this rather weird year or two where I was relating to my own work in a way in which I didn't feel comfortable. So I thought that the best thing—and honestly the best thing for the project and the fans of Tolkien and everything else—was to find another filmmaker who would do a really great job, and let them shoot Gandalf coming in the door, and let's all enjoy what they do with it and give somebody else a chance to do something fresh and original with it."

Jackson remains heavily involved, writing the scripts with longtime collaborators Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, as well as del Toro.

Following is an edited version of our conversation about The Hobbit, which is in preproduction in New Zealand.

Can you update us on the status of The Hobbit?

... We're about three weeks, I would say—give or take a little tailwind—about three weeks from turning over the first script for the first Hobbit movie to the studio. The process that we've been through so far is we wrote—and when I say "we," it's the four of us, it's Guillermo, Philippa, Fran and myself—we wrote an extensive treatment of the two films, which we pitched to the studio on a long conference call, and that was, I guess, about three or four months ago. And that was good, that went well, and they liked the idea. Because no one was really [in disagreement about] "Should it be one film? Should it be two films?"

There was talk about doing The Hobbit as one movie and doing an in-between-The Hobbit-and-The Lord of the Rings [movie], a bridge movie. ... We worked through the storyline, and we thought, "Well, obviously, we could squeeze The Hobbit into one movie," but even, like, a three-hour movie, you'd be amazed at how much of that story you'd have to lose. It's weird. I mean, the book ... is what the book is, and we just worked through a process of including all the events that we'd like to see in a film, and it was clear [that] it wasn't going to fit. Plus, the fact that we want to embellish a few things and put a little bit of extra ... narrative in for Gandalf and what he's doing in Dol Guldur and the Necromancer and various sort of side ... stories that are happening. And so we decided really that the two movies we were doing should be The Hobbit part one and part two.

So we devised this treatment, we pitched it to the studio, and they were happy with it. So then we set about, about three months ago we started in earnest to write the screenplay, which we're now about three weeks from delivering the first film.

And we haven't done any casting yet. I mean, that's the truth. There's all these rumors about people, but we haven't offered a single role to any actor yet, because everything's a process, and we haven't got a green light, and we haven't got a budget. And when you make an offer to an actor, one of the things that you have to obviously expect is they're going to ask to see a script, so we have to wait until we have a script. The other thing that you also need when you offer the role to an actor is you need dates. You need to be able to tell them when you want to start work and when they're going to finish work and how long they're going to work for. Because, obviously, an actor's deal is very much tied to the commitment of work. And so it's not until we deliver the script that we can break the script down, that we can get a budget, and then once we've got a budget we have to get a green light, which we haven't got.

I mean, we've been talking about releasing the first movie in December '11 and the second in December '12, and that's what we're aiming for. But we've only ever been aiming for it, and the studio obviously are not going to sign off on the films until they see a script and the budgets that are budgeting to that script.

So we're three weeks away from the first movie, the first script going in, and we haven't started working on the second script yet. We're just doing one at a time. But we'll start work with that as soon as we're done with the first script. And as soon as we do the first script, there'll be a breakdown of that done. We'll work out the needs of the cast. We'll do some extrapolating. We're not going to wait for the second script before we do a budget, so we'll use the first script, and we'll kind of do a guesstimate based on that how much we think the two films are going to cost. We'll be able to block out the actors' times that we think we're going to need. When we're going to start, when we're going to finish. What the duration of the [shoot is]. And then at that point we can actually go and talk to their agents and offer them a role. So there really isn't any casting news that I can report, and that's the reason why.

Have you talked about casting among yourselves? Are there people in mind that you can think of?

... There are some, yeah, which I wouldn't [want to say]. Obviously, there, ... the thing that we want to do is, any characters that were seen in The Lord of the Rings, we obviously want the actors that originated the characters to come back and play them again. So that obviously goes without saying.

And in terms of new characters, in some regards we are talking about people as ideas, but ... obviously it would be wrong of me to talk about that here, because we should talk to the actors themselves first before we talk about it over the 'net.

And in other ways we're waiting until we finish the script, because ... a key bit of casting are the dwarves, and the dwarves are ... important characters in the sense that they're a variety of personalities. And we're developing up those personalities as we write the script. And it's very fluid, and we don't ... even want to start thinking about who would play those roles of the dwarves until we really nail the scripts. Because, you know, is this Happy or Sleepy or Dopey or Grumpy or Doc? We need to know who's who. ... We need to know the personality of the particular character and what their function in the story is before we really can figure out what actor would be suitable for that role. So ... we're not really thinking too much about that at the moment.

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