Darth Disney?

IT seems like a long time ago in a galaxy far far away when I experienced Star Wars for the first time.  It was at the back of my local cinema during the 20th Anniversary re-release in theaters in 1997.  Since then (& before) so much has been created – a new trilogy was spawned as well as a television series, countless figurines, toys, board games, theme park rides, spin-offs, comic books, costumes, conventions, concerts and yes, even a religion.

And so the universe has expanded with The Walt Disney Company having now acquired Lucasfilm as it’s latest asset for a cool sum of $4.05B (£2.5B) with George Lucas receiving around half & half in cash and shares.  Disney’s purchase now means that they are proud owners of Industrial Light & Magic (visual effects), Skywalker Sound (post), LucasArts (video games) & its’ other subsidiaries.  Not to mention keys to the entire Star Wars back-catalogue of movies & merchandise – the whole shebang (everything but the church).

Lucas released a statement: “For the past 35 years, one of my greatest pleasures has been to see Star Wars passed from one generation to the next”.  Whilst Disney CEO Robert Iger added; “This is one of the great entertainment properties of all time, one of the best branded and one of the most valuable, and it’s just fantastic for us to have the opportunity to both buy it, run it and grow it.”.

“That’s no moon…” – Fans are concerned.

Whilst I have yet to visit a Jedi church, this may be the answer to our little wookie prayers, a new hope if you like.  I wasn’t a fan of the prequel trilogy (Episodes 1-3), nothing but a CGI-fest in my mind.  I know a lot of people aren’t greeting this news with open arms but I’m choosing to look at the positives: George Lucas, the father of Star Wars is stepping back and allowing Kathleen Kennedy to take the reigns as the new studio president.  Kennedy will also undertake the role of executive producer on the films. Kennedy’s record in the industry, the sheer volume of her work is outstanding.  A woman who brought us franchises such as Back to the Future, Indiana Jones & Jurassic Park to name a few.  It’s a chance for the Star Wars Empire to well & truly strike back and give us the return of the Jedi that fans crave.

Kennedy recalled Disney’s previous acquisitions in her praise; “There’s huge opportunity given the success that Disney has had with Marvel, with Pixar and now adding Lucasfilm to that, I think we couldn’t be in a better home.  Disney defines family entertainment and in many ways it’s the best company possible to take Star Wars into the future.”

With it’s Maker now pretty much riding off into the sunset on his retirement plan, huge credit must be allocated to George Lucas for his creative work that has spanned generations and will now continue to do so under the watchful eyes & iconic ears of Disney.  Lucas was also responsible for the clunky dialogue, the carnival of CGI and Jar-Jar Binks of the prequel trilogy, now there’s the opportunity for the Millennium Falcon to truly spread its’ wings and fly.  Lucas hasn’t gone altogether though, he’ll act as a creative consultant to the films, perhaps from beside a swimming pool in California rather than the Death Star or Tatooine.

Disney CEO, Iger expressed his thoughts on the sale by saying; “This transaction combines a world-class portfolio of content including Star Wars, one of the greatest family entertainment franchises of all time, with Disney’s unique and unparalleled creativity across multiple platforms, businesses, and markets to generate sustained growth and drive significant long-term value.” and after confirming Episode 7, also hinted at the possibility of more than just new movies; “We definitely plan to expand the presence of Star Wars in our parks which could include new parks”.

Possibly the most exciting quote in all this was when Lucas remarked; “It’s now time for me to pass Star Wars on to a new generation of filmmakers.” – now just imagine a Star Wars movie in the hands of a Christopher Nolan…

Jedi mind tricks?  Time will tell.

Alex M

Q&A: Cameron McCracken

Cameron McCracken is Managing Director of Pathé UK & has been Executive Producer on titles such as The Queen, Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours & The Iron Lady.  I sat down with him recently – here’s what he said…

What was your first job in the film industry & how did you get to where you are now?

I had read law at university and had also done a lot of acting.  I was convinced I would become a lawyer that worked in theatre.  I ended up working at a law firm where the choice was working in television or in film.  And I decided to focus on the latter.  So I’ve never been out of the film industry since I was 24.

Having worked as a lawyer in London, Paris and Rome, I decided that I wanted to be a producer.  I had decided that I could do it better than the people I was advising, not realising quite how difficult it is.  After a couple of years as an independent producer, and having made four films, I was headhunted to join British Screen (pre-cursor to the current British Film Institute) as the Director of Business Affairs.  I was there for three years and then I was headhunted by Pathé and I’ve been here ever since (twelve years).

What do you think is the recipe for a successful film?

There is no formula because if there was a formula there’d be no film that would fail.  Every movie is a prototype.  You can never know what is going to capture the public mood.  Inevitably your personal taste informs the sorts of movies that you look to acquire, develop & produce but that has to be informed by commercial smarts.  There is no point falling in love with a script if you know the film can never be financed because the subject matter and/or director and/or cast will have insufficient appeal to an international audience to enable the cost of the film to recoup.

Is there a specific type of film that Pathé look to produce? Artistic films? Commercialised films?

You never set out to make a film that is not commercial.   What interests me are those films for which there is a demonstrable pre-existing public appetite whether because of the subject matter (eg. based on a best-selling novel or a historic character) or because of the identity of the director or actor.   For example, with The Iron Lady what made that film pop for the international audience was a superstar (Meryl Streep) playing an icon (Margaret Thatcher).

How difficult is it to compete with Hollywood productions?

The answer is ‘impossible’, so don’t.  We can’t compete with their thrillers and action movies – we can’t afford the huge budgets – nor with their glossy star-laden rom coms.  But what we can do is everything else – the dramas and the comedies.  With respect to the former, because the Hollywood system often generates less interesting roles, A-list actors are willing to take pay cuts to work in British films.

Since the success of a film such as Slumdog Millionaire, is that now the marker for what you make?

It’s a hits-driven business.  You have to have a hit (around £10m at the UKBO) every year or so in order to sweep up all the losses.  But a phenomenon such as Slumdog or Kings Speech may only happen once in a lifetime.  The business model for any company that is in this sector long-term, is that you should design the financing of your movies to ensure that you make relatively modest profits and relatively modest losses on your films in the expectation that every couple of years a film will pop and become a hit.  You should therefore always spread your risk which means partnering with co-investors.  You will have to give away upside but you will also protect your down-side.

What attracted you to Long Walk to Freedom?

Fifteen years ago I had met the producer, Anant Singh who had just optioned the book from Nelson Mandela.  When I read the script I was blown away by the sweep of the story and the power of the man.  I was convinced that a truly inspirational film could be made and that the talent assembled was perfect: Idris Elba and Naomie Harris as the Mandelas and Justin Chadwick to direct.

How important is the political message of this film to you as a Producer?  How are you hoping for it to be received in South Africa?

The film is not political in that sense.  It’s the depiction of a real man who happens to be a good man.  Running through the whole film is a heart-breaking love story between Mandela and Winnie.  The human cost of his moral choices was huge – but he refused to make any concession.  It’s what makes the tone of the film so triumphant.

What advice would you give to a young producer today?

The only business model that works as a producer is to find a director that financiers want to back, and never let that director go!  Great directors are as few and far between as great writers and painters (or great producers for that matter) – they will always work (and you will always produce) because audiences will always want to hear what they have to say.    If you have no regular source of production you are pushed towards a hand-to-mouth existence as you try to get one project at a time off the ground.  That takes time, and time is not on your side if you do not have a regular income.

Last question, which film would you take to a desert island with you and why?

It’s a Wonderful Life.  Reassuringly optimistic and will remind me of snow.

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom‘ is set for a 2013 release in the UK

The Best of Bond: 50 Year Anniversary

IT’S 50 years to the day when in Dr. No (1962) Sean Connery uttered the catchphrase in the casino that would become immortal.  A catchphrase, an introduction, call it whatever you want.  It sparked an explosion of, well…explosions, tidy suits, fast cars, silky gadgets, weapons to die for (pun intended) and of course, a string of women a.k.a. ‘Bond Girls’.  Fifty years of such ingredients has spawned twenty-two feature films, cementing Ian Flemmings’ Double-0 British secret agent into worldwide popular culture.  With today, Friday the Fifth of October, Twenty Twelve being 007′s 50th anniversary, and with a 23rd outing imminent in Skyfall, to celebrate, I give you my own personal taste.  My own Vodka Martini.  The Best of Bond…James Bond.

Best Wheels:

007′s had as many cars as you’ve had hot dinners, and like hot dinners, he’s managed to destroy just about every one of them (poor Q). He’s had a variety of vehicles from the Lotus Espirit S1 (The Spy Who Loved Me) which had the ability to convert into a submarine, yes a submarine…to the remote-controlled BMW 750il (Tomorrow Never Dies). He’s even laid St. Petersburg to waste with the use of a Tank (GoldenEye) However there’s only one choice of hot wheels for Bond and I think James would agree with me on this – it’s got to be the Aston Martin DB5 (Goldfinger, Thunderball, GoldenEye).  Alternative number plates, machine guns, smoke screen, oil slick, tire slashers, oh and an ejector seat, this set of wheels had the lot.

The perfect toy.

Winner: Aston Martin DB5 (Goldfinger)

Best Gadget: 

Deadly Dentonite Toothpaste (License to Kill), X-Ray glasses (The World is Not Enough), Cigarette Darts (You Only Live Twice), a Ski-Pole gun (The Spy Who Loved Me) – Bond has managed to find use of almost every household item however it’s the Jet Pack (Thunderball) which comes out on top in my opinion.  Every boy’s dream.

Winner: Jet Pack (Thunderball)

Best Bond Girl: 

How does he do it?  In the midst of risking his life for Queen & country, James has always got time for the odd lady friend, and there’s been a fair few of them in his time.  There was Natalya Simonova (GoldenEye), Mary Goodnight (The Man With The Golden Gun), Anya Amasova (The Spy Who Loved Me), May Day (A View to a Kill) Jill Masterson (Goldfinger).  Decisions, decisions, decisions.  I am tempted to select Pussy Galore (Goldfinger) as my favourite Bond Girl but it’s too difficult to resist the view of Honey Ryder (Dr. No) emerging from the ocean in THAT bikini.  Probably the most iconic shot of any Bond Girl.

Winner: Honey Ryder (Dr. No)

Best Song:

A good song to introduce the credits is most important.  Those silhouettes need something decent to prance around to.  There’s been some disappointing themes over the years but plenty of good’uns along the way performed by a host of acts.  Starting with Tina Turner (GoldenEye), Shirley Bassey (Diamonds Are Forever), Garbage (The World is Not Enough), Paul McCartney & Wings (Live And Let Die), Tom Jones (Thunderball), Carly Simon’s ‘Nobody Does It Better’ (The Spy Who Loved Me) comes very close but the outright winner is Shirley Bassey’s Goldfinger.  Just listen to it and tell me that’s not the perfect Bond theme.

Winner: Shirley Bassey (Goldfinger)

Best Villain:

For Bond to succeed, he must overcome.  He’s gotten out of some tricky situations and tight spots has 007, he always finds a way.  Yet if it wasn’t for our beloved Bond antagonists, then James Bond would probably be selling cars rather than riding in them.  So who do we have?  Who tests Bond to the limit?  We have Francisco Scaramanga (The Man With The Golden Gun), Blofeld (Thunderball/On Her Majesty’s Secret Service/You Only Live Twice), Hugo Drax (Moonraker), Sanchez (License to Kill), Dr. No (Dr. No).  There’s also been a fair few sidekicks such as Oddjob (Goldfinger), Xenia Onatopp (GoldenEye) and who could forget the lovely and indestructible Jaws (The Spy Who Loved Me).  There is only one true nemesis, a heart so cold…Mr. Goldfinger himself.

Winner: Goldfinger (Goldfinger)

Best Film:

I’m just going to list them.

  1. Goldfinger (1964)
  2. From Russia With Love (1963)
  3. Thunderball (1965)
  4. GoldenEye (1995)
  5. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

Winner: Goldfinger

So there you have it.  The Best of Bond.  You have served your country well, and no Mr. Bond we don’t expect you to die – here’s to the next 50 years.

Alex M

It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint.

IT’S Friday.  Another week has passed, but not only that – I’ve just realised 4 months has passed since I last updated you.

A lot has happened since my last post, three workplaces and an Olympic Games!  It has also been almost a year since I moved down to London and embarked on my search for work in the UK Film Industry.  As I knelt down to wait for the sound of the gun to begin my adventure, I said to myself that this wasn’t going to be easy and that this is more of a case of a marathon rather than a sprint.  A year after this marathon began I am pleased to tell you that I have gained a considerable amount of experience on my journey round the London track.

It was only in my last post when I was updating you about my recent work at Pathé UK and how I was leaving with a ‘see you soon’ rather than a ‘goodbye’.  Since then I have undertaken another two spells with them and have continued to enjoy myself with them.  I was also fortunate enough to enjoy a good spell working at the British Film Institute where I undertook work as an Assistant to three Production & Development Executives in the BFI Film Fund.  By far the busiest & most manic environment I have yet to work in, the BFI was a great way to learn their work and learn it fast.  I was really grateful to be given such an opportunity as well as some on-set experience at The Mob Film Company in Manchester before returning safely back to Pathé.

These are exciting times, things are very positive and I’m enjoying every day and the strides that I am taking.  The BFI Film Festival will soon be upon us once again so check back for updates on that and I also have arranged to interview a prominant figure in the UK Film Industry for this website.  I am also undertaking the mamoth task of writing a feature-length script, will update you on that in the not-to-distant future.  So unlike the weather, things ain’t dull and I am looking forward to seeing the finishing line soon!

Keep on running…

Alex M

Sunny Spells at Pathé

USUALLY I would apologise for the lack of updates but I’m not going to this time.  Life has been good since the Oscars.  Along with Spring, my experience in the industry has sprung and I am hoping that the career will bloom as we make our way into Summer with as little showers as possible.  Here’s one person who is hoping for a heat-wave rather than sunny spells.

So, what have I been up to?  Well, last week I finished my Internship at Pathe’.  My time at Pathé UK was nothing short of brilliant.  Probably the best experience I have had so far in film since graduating from film school.  What?  Better than LA?  LA was a great pool to dive into but after getting out of it and shaking myself dry, that’s when I had to put some clothes back on as the nitty-gritty stuff of reality kicked in and it’s been a real test of character and passion.

So far that passion has been tested well and I’m glad to say that the recent experience at Pathé has reinvigorated the passion and desire.  I was fortunate enough to meet some amazing individuals at Pathé and although they are a small group of about 22, they have created a brilliant team & friendly atmosphere over there.  I was fortunate to meet the likes of Cameron McCracken, Alexandra Ferguson, Bradley Quirk and a host of others who each of them gave me invaluable advice and guidance.  I was pleased to have been able to leave the place by saying “see you soon” rather than “goodbye”.

The beauty of Pathé was that it’s structure allowed me to view each department and get to know the industry as well as the place.  I’ll tell you why this was a good place for me to learn because I am still trying to figure out what I want to do in the industry.  Look, we all went to film school wanting to be a director and some of us still want to do that.  I still want to practice it in my spare time for fun but strictly for fun rather than as a career.  As a career I want to navigate in the direction towards Production.  I knew this before Pathé but they have helped me learn more not just about those areas in particular to strengthen my judgement but to learn about the other areas.  As filmmakers it is important to know all the areas of film.

Pathé were a great SatNav and I can’t wait to work with them again soon.

Alex M

2012 Oscar Nominations: Reaction

WITH just twenty-six days to go until the world’s attention Descends on to the famous red carpet in front of the Kodak Theatre, it’s the time of year when fashionistas Help each other dissect who-wears-what and when film fans like myself discuss Hugo‘s into film folk law.

Neither of those results have yet been revealed but rest assure the post-Oscar talk will go way beyond Midnight in Paris. Whilst Hollywood’s Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences are placing their votes over the coming weeks, cinema’s biggest Moneyball extravangza is galloping towards us like a War Horse.  The 84th Academy Awards are approaching Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close and here’s my reaction to The Artists who have been nominated for little gold men.  (Couldn’t think of Tree of Life pun)

BEST PICTURE: The Artist, The Descendants, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, The Help, Hugo, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, The Tree of Life & War Horse.

Over recent years, the Academy have opted for five nominees one year to ten nominees the other for its’ Best Picture category.  It was never quite right was it?  I’m pleased to see that this year the number of nominees for this particular category has been determined by the films that are actually good enough to win it.  It was a little frustrating to see in recent years the likes of Toy Story 3 and Up rubbing shoulders with the likes of The King’s Speech and Up in the Air (no offence Pixar).  Although I haven’t managed to see all of the films nominated, what pleases me about this category is that there is no clear favourite.  Last year was a tussle between The King’s Speech & Social Network but there was always going to be one winner with the Academy.  This year you don’t quite know who’s going to come out on top so I applaud the uncertainty of this year’s Best Picture category and I love the sub-plot of the fact that we’ve got a silent movie in there that could very well win.  As a fan of nostalgia, I’d love to see The Artist bag the prize.  It wouldn’t be the Oscars thought without disappointment though would there?  It was a shame to see We Need to Talk About Kevin ignored by The Academy as well as David Fincher’s Girl With The Dragon Tattoo - really disappointed that this didn’t make the cut as for me it was the best film I’d seen at the cinema since The King’s Speech.

Prediction: The Descendants.

BEST DIRECTOR: Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist), Alexander Payne (The Descendants), Martin Scorsese (Hugo), Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris), Terrence Mallick (The Tree of Life)

It’s great to see three golden oldies in Scorsese, Allen & Mallick nominated for director in 2012.  My nostalgic self would love to see either Marty or Woody pick up the award however I can’t help but think that another old great deserved to join those three.  Surely    one of the big snubs this year belongs to Steven Spielberg for his effort with War Horse.  It seems like Speilberg doesn’t win an Oscar unless he gives the Academy no choice (Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan).  I think this category will be decided between Michael Hazanavicius and Alexander Payne with Scorsese next-favourite.

Prediction: Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist)

BEST ACTOR: Demian Bichir (A Better Life), George Clooney (The Descendants), Jean Dujardin (The Artist), Gary Oldman (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), Brad Pitt (Moneyball) 

Despite turning their nose up at Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Gary Oldman receives his first Oscar nomination which I suppose was a small surprise in the nominations.  Dujardin will be hoping to follow up with his success at Cannes by collecting the Oscar whilst old friends Clooney & Pitt go up against each other whilst Demian Bichir completes the category.

Prediction: George Clooney (The Descendants) 

BEST ACTRESS: Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs), Viola Davis (The Help), Rooney Mara (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo), Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady), Michelle Williams (My Week With Marilyn)

A very strong category this year for the best actress however if anybody is going to topple Meryl Streep’s performance in The Iron Lady, then they will have fully deserved it.  This is  Streep’s 17th Oscar nomination. Rooney Mara fully deserves her nomination, the fresh-faced girl from The Social Network isn’t so fresh faced this time around as she delivers a performance with attitude in Fincher’s new flick.  Glenn Close receives maybe a surprise recognition for her performance playing a male in Albert Nobbs with Michelle Williams and Viola Davis completing a competitive category.

Prediction: Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady)

It’s a very open awards this year with a number of surprises and snubs.  Pleased to see Hugo do well, The Artist brings added interest, disappointed that Tilda Swinton and Senna failed to receive recognition and at least Rooney Mara is flying the flag for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

The 84th Annual Academy Awards take place on Sunday 26th February 2012 at The Kodak Theatre, Hollywood & Highland.

Alex M

Hello Soho

AS I was sat at my table seat window on yesterday’s 13:55 Virgin train from Manchester to London, I began to reflect and realise that life is moving by far faster than the English countryside on the other side of the glass.

It had never occurred to me until yesterday that the past six months of my life have been spent in two exciting cities, Los Angeles and London.  So much has happened, correction – happening.  I’m satisfied with my start to the year so far, even though it’s only really kicked off yesterday.  I’m back in London, a week or two later than planned as an opportunity rose in front of me to earn a little bit of cash back in Manchester but I am pleased to see that no time is being wasted.

I was eager to get off the train, my feet hit the Euston platform running, literally as I had fifteen minutes to make it down to Soho for my first interview of the year.  I love interviews, whether you’re successful or not that is a different matter but my view of it is that it’s an opportunity to meet someone new, show them what you’re made of, learn from them and I stressed yesterday that it’s important to never close a door behind you in life.  I’m a firm believer of that.

The last three months have been positive but frustrating but it’s key to stay positive.  It’s an old cliche but it all happens for a reason.  Without the last few months, yesterday would not have happened, and today would not be happening.  Lots of people to meet, lots of doors to leave open.

Keep on running…

Alex M