Tagged: DreamWorks

Joe Corallo: Shell Game

Ghost In The Shell 1

This was supposed to be a lighter column for me. I had seen Iggy Pop play over at The Capital Theatre in Port Chester last Thursday. I was going to write about how it was an absolutely incredible show, talk a bit about Iggy Pop’s career and how he was a major influence on the comic book series The Crow. Then I read this. And this. I saw friends of my get incredibly upset over this. Hell, I’m upset too. So without putting up much of a fight with myself, I decided this week I’d tackle the growing embarrassment that is the Ghost In The Shell live action adaptation.

Ghost In The Shell was one of the first anime movies I had watched. When I was a kid, I grew up on Voltron, Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball Z, and many others. The Sci-Fi channel (before it was the SyFy channel) used to do Saturday Anime in the mid to late 90s. That exposed me to a lot of different anime movies. They had commercials for the anime movie adaptation of Ghost In The Shell and I eventually got the DVD. It was fantastic. Visually stunning and engaging in a similar way to me as Akira or Serial Experiment Lain.

Dreamworks Pictures is currently deep into the production of the Ghost In The Shell live action movie, slated for release on March 31, 2017. It’s been reported that this has been a long anticipated project. Personally, I’m fine with my anime movie staying an anime movie without a live action adaptation. We all saw how movies like Speed Racer and Dragon Ball: Evolution turned out. Ghost In The Shell may prove to be worse than those.

Let’s get into some details that we know about the movie so far. It’s being directed by Rupert Sanders. It’s written by Jonathan Herman and Jamie Moss. It’s starring Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbaek, Michael Pitt, Takeshi Kitano, and Juliette Binoche. Notice something a bit off about all this? If the answer is “no” congratulations! You’re part of the problem. If your answer is “I thought this was a Japanese property. Isn’t nearly every single person listed here white?” then we’re on the same page.

Ghost-in-the-Shell-102615In addition to all of that, Dreamworks Pictures admitted to using VFX technology to attempt to “shift the ethnicities” of white actors in the film with CGI to make them appear more Asian in post-production. While plans to go through with this have been scrapped, I do want to make something clear for everyone. At least one person working high enough on this movie identified that barely any Asian actors on screen was a problem.

That person managed to convey that was a problem. Either that person or another person high enough in the production proposed that they could try to use a modern version of yellow face that they don’t have to call yellow face because it’s done by computers now and we all know that yellow face is bad, but the intentions behind yellow face apparently aren’t to those working on Ghost In The Shell. Person with this idea to use modern yellow face was able to get enough traction from the production for them to actually try it. The fact that we are even so inclined as to say that at least they didn’t go through with it in the end shows just how low the bar is for institutional racism in Hollywood.

Now the fault here certainly lays heavily on the production team, but how much of it is on the actors themselves? Scarlett Johansson is certainly a talented actress that’s a proven cash grab at the box office. So few women in Hollywood have been elevated to this level. Shouldn’t we celebrate Scarlett Johansson being elevated like this and ignore the fact that the character she is playing is supposed to be Asian?

No. Nope. Never.

Nearly every single woman that has been elevated to a similar position to Scarlett Johansson in Hollywood has been cis straight and white. The reason is because they’re the ones given a disproportionate about of the opportunities. Scarlett Johansson is not desperate to break into the industry. She’s a leader there. Someone that’s admired by many. She is successful enough to turn down a role like this. She should have turned it down. I’m sure she’s turned down plenty of roles in her career to play characters that she actually fits the description of. Why did she have to take this one? Or Pilou Asbaek? Or Michael Pitt? Or Juliette Binoche?

It’s because of casting decisions like this that predominantly straight cis white men and women dominate the box office. Arguments are made about needing big names to get butts in the seats. However, there are plenty of examples that counter that point. One prominent example related to comics is Superman: The Movie. Other than a couple of names who all had smaller roles, the movie was led primarily by unknowns. Also movies like, you know, Star Wars. And if Johnny Depp has taught us anything lately, it’s you can still be a Hollywood giant and star in box office disaster after box office disaster and still get picked over someone whose background and ethnicity better fits the role he’s playing. He is 1/16th Native American though, so that must count for something to someone apparently.

So how does this happen? The short and obvious answer is because not enough people see this as a problem. And it is a problem. It’s a hard problem to combat, and even gigantic box office bombs like 2013’s The Lone Ranger can’t seem to discourage Hollywood. It would require a sea-change. One of which would be going against one of the current cash cows they’ve been milking, comic book movies which technically Ghost In The Shell as a manga falls into. Movies that are primarily dominated by straight cis white men. It’s okay though, Black Panther is finally getting his own movie over at Marvel only about 54 years after the civil rights act, and Captain Marvel only 99 years after the 19th amendment.

You know, progress.

Box Office Democracy: The Boxtrolls

The Boxtrolls is a movie that always felt like enjoyment was just beyond my grasp. It has so many things going on and I never felt like I got quite enough information or context to really appreciate them. This ended up making me feel very old because I probably wouldn’t have gotten caught up on that as a child. Back then, I would have just considered each thing, found it pleasing or displeasing and moved on but now while they’re giving me a cross-dressing villain or an oddball pseudo-murder montage and I’m still thinking about how weird it is that everything in this entire world is somehow cheese-based.

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Box Office Democracy: “How To Train Your Dragon 2”

I came late to the first How To Train Your Dragon film.  I caught it on HBO well over a year after release and while I thought the “better than Toy Story 3” hype was a touch overblown it was a revelation for DreamWorks Animation, which had previously churned out franchises like Shrek and Madagascar that I flat out detested.  How to Train Your Dragon 2 is not quite as good as the first one but it’s a fine film that should hold up a little better to being driven in to the ground like every other shiny thing DreamWorks gets its hands on.

Where How to Train Your Dragon 2 shines is in the amazing action sequences.  The wide variety of dragons keeps it visually interesting and when it wants to the movi keeps the screen in constant fervent motion.  It’s definitely the kind of movie that can hypnotize a theater full of small children.  This is better action than Pixar produces, this is better action than Disney or Blue Sky put out, this is the standard bearer for animated action.  I don’t know what that’s worth as the rest of the field seems to be focusing on pulling on heartstrings and wow-ing academy voters but as a stalwart defender of the live-action popcorn action movie I must stand and recognize the efforts of the animated equivalent.

It might not be completely fair but I think the thing most holding me back on this movie is the performance of Jay Baruchel as the lead.  I hate the voice he’s doing here and you have to hear it an awful lot.  It’s grating and annoying and while I understand how that serves the character of an outcast intellectual Viking I can’t let my ears hang out in the platonic ideal the voice seems to be serving.  I don’t like hearing him talk and so I hated having the main character on screen.  That’s a pretty big problem for a movie to have.

I’ve also saluted the politics of Frozen and Maleficent so I feel obliged to ding How to Train Your Dragon 2 for feeling awfully regressive in places.  The movie does not pass the Bechdel Test and, more importantly, the second most prominent returning female character is given a storyline where she’s obsessed with this bad boy dragon trapper even after he’s terrible to her and even goes as far as to basically molest him at times.  None of the female characters here are ones I’d be comfortable with my non-existent daughter’s modeling themselves after and I don’t know that there’s space for characters like that in this genre any more.

But really, no one is considering or not considering this movie for its politics.  How to Train Your Dragon 2 is fun when it wants to be fun, stunningly sad when it wants to be sad and ultimately the best kids movie I’ve seen this year.  The shortcomings are far exceeded by the sheer joyousness of the picture and that’s a near impossible thing to nitpick away.

Saturday Morning Cartoons: “Mr. Peabody & Sherman”– the movie?

We have improbable future history in the making as we present the trailer for Mr. Peabody & Sherman, coming from Dreamworks Animation to theaters on March 7, 2014, and starring Ty Burrell, Max Charles, Ariel Winter, Stephen Colbert, and Allison Janney, all directed by Rob Minkoff. Take a look:

In the movie, Mr. Peabody, the most accomplished dog in the world, and his mischievous boy Sherman, use their time machine “the WABAC” to go on the most outrageous adventures known to man or dog. But when Sherman takes the Wabac out for a joyride to impress his friend Penny, they accidently rip a hole in the universe, wreaking havoc on the most important events in world history. Before they forever alter the past, present and future, Mr. Peabody must come to their rescue, ultimately facing the most daunting challenge of any era: figuring out how to be a parent. Together, the time-traveling trio will make their mark on history.

Fans remember Peabody and Sherman from the Peabody’s Improbable History segments on Rocky & Bullwinkle created by Ted Key. Peabody was voiced by Bill Scott, while Sherman was voiced by Walter Tetley. For a reminder of those great cartoons, let’s fire up our own WABAC machine now:

“Cowboys & Aliens” Studios Sued For Copyright Infringement

Scott Rosenberg involved in legal problems and accused of theft? What are the odds?

Cowboys & Aliens studios Universal Pictures and Platinum Studios have been sued by cartoonist Stephen Busti, who claims that the graphic novel and Jon Favreau movie infringes on his strip ‘Cowboys and Aliens’, which appeared in Bizarre Fantasy #1 in 1994.

TMZ reports that Busti’s story was spotlighted in a 1995 issue of Comic Shop News on the same page that ran a story about Platinum’s Scott Rosenberg. The studio executive later presented the Cowboys & Aliens concept to the studio.

Platinum produced a Cowboys & Aliens poster in 1997 and sold the rights to the property to Universal and Dreamworks. It did not appear in graphic novel form until 2006.

MICHAEL DAVIS: The Art Of The Deal – Part 1

I’m not bragging when I say I’ve got a ridiculous résumé, and by ridiculous I mean bad ass and by bad ass I mean impressive and by impressive I mean… you know.

Really. I am not bragging. Consider one of my favorite sayings from the great philosopher Yogi Berra, who said “It ain’t bragging if you can do it.”

Trust me on this. I won’t bore you with the details but I’m one the best dealmakers in the comics business if I do say so myself.

And… I do say so.

Yeah, yeah. I can hear the haters out there. Who is this guy? Except for Milestone and ComicMix I’ve never heard of him.

That’s fair.

But I’m sure a great many of you love movies and have never heard of Michael Ovitz either. I’ll just leave it at that.

When I say “deal” I’m not just talking about getting a comic book done. I’m talking about expanding the medium to as many media platforms as my mind can conceive. Except for the movies (which I’m working on) I’ve done major deals in TV, mainstream publishing, education, the music industry, toys, the Christian market, radio and I’m working on a (get this) musical.

I’ve done very few comic books as a creator. In fact, I’m only done two mini series, a few covers had some work in a few anthologies and at Milestone. Yet I was named one of the most powerful people in comics for two straight years by Hero Illustrated in 1993 and 1994 and back then I had nowhere the résumé I have to day.

Of course after naming me to that list for the second time, Hero Illustrated went out of business. Coincidence?

Probably not, but who am I to say?

You may ask yourself, as I have, “Self, how the heck did he get on that list?”

It’s the art of the deal my friend, the art of the deal.

I’ve put deals major together such as creating a comic book universe as a high interest low level reading program which is now and has been taught in schools as a curriculum and I did that in 1996. It’s called The Action Files; it started at Simon & Shuster then went to Person Learning.

That’s a pretty big accomplishment, but not my biggest. 15 years later it still holds up as a badass deal.

I’ll use that deal as a step by step ‘”how I did it.” I’ll go from idea to how The Action Files came to be distributed in the school system by not one but two powerhouse publishers.

My step by step will be interspersed with asides which will (hopefully) help provide a better and true understanding of the what-and-why mechanics of the deal.

The Action File Deal

It all started with a great idea: comics in the school system.

I’m not the first guy to think of that not by any means. In fact both Marvel and DC have had comics in the schools for one reason or another for decades. Those “educational” comics covered subjects such as drug abuse prevention among various other public service content.

What made my idea different was this: I wanted to create a comic book universe that would be a complete reading program with study and teacher guides that allow for a specific curriculum to be taught.

Many young people go wrong when trying to do something new or groundbreaking they think that a great idea is all you need.

Err, no.

My idea was neither ‘new nor groundbreaking, but my program was both. With that said here are the steps taken that turned my idea into a deal and that deal into a reading program.

Step 1: Does your idea have merit?

In other words, is it a good idea to anyone else but you?

I knew my idea had merit because it just made sense. I knew this on a personal level because the summer I discovered comics I went from a forth grade student with a third grade reading level to a fifth grade student with a ninth grade reading level. I knew this because I had to attend summer school that year to be able to be promoted into the fifth grade. I tested third grade in July and ninth grade in late August.

Why had it not been done before with a major publisher?  That was the question I had to think about. That led me to my next question and step:

Step 2: What are the barriers to entry and why has this not been done before?

After thinking and researching this question for a few weeks (another reason people fail: they think a good idea is somehow magically going to go away or be stolen if they don’t move the second they think of it. So they don’t do their due diligence) I decided the reason why there was no comic book reading programs taught as a curriculum is because of the educational climax and prejudices that were associated (at the time) against comic books.

In other words no one wanted to see The Hulk in a textbook.

When I ran this little tidbit by my then girlfriend she responded“That’s silly! Kids love comics!” True, kids love comics and very few kids would frown on reading them in school.

BUT, you are not selling to the kids; you are selling to educators and parents. Get it?

That’s another reason why some fail at this sort of thing. The idea is everything to them.  They focus only on the audience that the idea would be great for. Very seldom is the end user the gatekeeper.

How many times have you seen a TV show and it just sucked? When’s the last time you felt gipped because you spent nine bucks on a movie that was just bad?

Have any comics that you wished you could not only get your money back but also find the creative team and beat them with your copy?

I’m sure the vast majority of the readers of this column have experienced some if not all of the above. Here’s the thing: that TV show, movie and comic book all started out as a good idea to somebody. I’ve had much better ideas and so have you than certain things I’ve seen in the movies or on television. Yet somehow the shitty stuff is on TV and my idea is not. That’s because all the people involved figured out and dealt with the barriers to entry. What happened when the movie or TV show was being filmed is not the problem you should be worried about while you are looking to sell your idea.

That’s another reason people fail. They ask for outrageous things the moment someone shows an interest. I have a dear friend who killed a huge animated deal at DreamWorks because he insisted on directing. He never directed anything in his life so guess what happened to his idea?

It went from a DreamWorks movie to just being another idea.

Here’s another thing most people will not tell you: ideas are a dime a dozen, ideas are cheap and there is very little new under the sun.

By no means is anything I wrote or anything I’ve managed to do a magic bullet for a deal closing. I’ve killed a deal or 50 in my career with bad moves and most likely will again. This series of articles hopefully will shed some light on the inner workings of real deals and how they got done.

Think “ABC” when it comes to deal making:

Always

Be

Closing

What good is any idea if it just stays an idea?

Next week, I’ll finish up the Action File deal and begin to tell you how I set up a comic book universe and animated film deal for the church market.

Until then if you are interested in deal making, Goggle Michael Ovitz. I’m good but he’s the best that ever was and compared to him I’m just a squirrel trying to get a nut.

A cute and sexy squirrel, but still just a squirrel.

WEDNESDAY: Mike Gold

Alex Pettyfer Discusses Being Number Four

Alex Pettyfer was director D.J. Caruso’s first pick for the title role in DreamWorks’ adaptation of I am Number Four. The film, coming to home video tomorrow from Walt Disney Home Entertainment, the role propelled the 20-year-old actor onto the global stage. Here, he talks about the film’s production and his life up to now.

What can you tell us about your new movie?

I Am Number Four is an action-packed adventure entwined with a romantic story – and I play the role of John Smith. John wants to be a normal kid, but he is from a different planet and he has been given this destiny of becoming a warrior. John tries to find out who he is and what he wants to do with his life, but he has a bit of a tough time with it all. I think a lot of people are going to relate to what he goes through in the story because it’s about an outsider trying to fit in. We’ve all been there.

When were you an outsider?

Well, I think we’ve all been in that scenario where we’ve felt like we were alone or different. Everyone goes through that.

What was it like to work with Dianna Agron on the movie?

It was great. Dianna has an old-school movie star quality to her and I had an amazing time working with her, but I also had a great time working with the rest of the cast. Everyone on the set was amazing.

Who else stars in the movie with you?

An actress called Teresa Palmer is a young ball of energy and we also have a guy called Callan McAuliffe who is great. Working with everyone on the movie was phenomenal. We all fit together really well. (more…)

Review: ‘I Am Number Four’

A young boy from another world is raised on in the mid-west to use his special abilities for the good of all. He struggles to fit in at high school, constantly hiding his true nature under the watchful eye of his mentor. After Smallville, one would have thought the writing team of Alfred Gough and Miles Millar would have been comfortable with the subject matter much as Marti Noxon could have used her experiences from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to add some snark and fun to the high school life. Instead, the three combined to pen a middling, ineffective script adaptation of [[[I Am Number Four]]]. The movie, made for just under $60 million earned barely $90 million worldwide and extinguished much hope of a film series to follow the projected six book franchise. Now out from Walt Disney Home Entertainment, the movie is so incredibly devoid of personality and charm, it feels instead that it was constructed by the numbers.

Nine infants were smuggled off the war-torn world of Lorien and brought to Earth to be raised in anonymity by their watchers, er, guardians. Each were descended from a line of powerful inhabitants and born with gifts that would manifest at some time during adolescence. Until they were ready to return and free Lorien from the marauding Mogadorians, they lived apart. A squad (or more, it’s never clear) of Mogadorians are on Earth, hunting the nine. As each one is found and killed, the others are made painfully aware as a tattoo on their legs burns to life. Number Four is a teen living with Henri, who is obsessed with figuring out where the others are and banding them together before more are lost.

Four, or John, refuses to just live in hiding and insists on attending high school, this time in Paradise, Ohio. He tries to fit in but of course, that’s when his special abilities flare to life, and make him a target for the Mogadorians. John falls for Sarah, complicating things, as her ex-boyfriend has it in for the newcomer while the Mogadorians come to town. (more…)