Murdoch Mysteries

ENTERTAINMENT – Murdoch Mysteries My New Found Obsession On Amazon

Riley Rose McKesson 
May 28, 2020, RileyRoseAuthor.com

Murdoch Mysteries can be viewed by American audiences on Amazon Prime with an Acorn TV subscription.

I recently discovered Murdock Mysteries, a TV Series that’s been on the air for 13 seasons, no less! It’s an outstanding series, well conceived, beautifully cast, and based on a bestselling book series written by Maureen Jennings, also an Executive Producer on the show. Murdoch Mysteries is just unknown to American audiences. Yannick Bisson plays the main character, Detective William Murdock.

Murdoch uses forensic technics, at the turn of the 20th Century, developing early crime science investigation (CSI) procedures to solve murders.

The show uses investigative drama and historical characters: Thomas Edison, Tesla, Kellogg, Harley Davison, Mark Twain, etc., throughout the entire series. The stories are complicated and intricate, interlaced with humor and the fantastical, mostly in the mind of Constable George Crabtree, (Comedian, Jonny Harris), portraying a burgeoning author mixed in with beat cop policing on each case. What’s a befuddled copper without a stern captain, as Inspector Thomas Brackenreid, (Thomas Craig), is ever-berating of Crabtree’s concepts and perceptions surrounding the composition of each crime case.

Yannick Bisson plays Detective William Murdoch in the worldwide hit, Murdock Mysteries produced on the CBC.

I found the greatest appeal in the foundation of Murdoch. Bisson’s portrayal reminds me a great deal of the intensity portrayed in The Godfather I and The Godfather II of Michael Corleone (Al Pacino). The detective offers quiet contemplation, unrelenting commitment to the core of who the character is; Murdoch is a devote Catholic (ostracized at the time), with a quick mind for math and science formulating into almost an inventor prototype of the time. His commitment to his calling: his profession and his love interest is pure joy to watch. It’s the foundation of who this character is and how he operates each case toward its solving and the arrest of all villains mixed up in the crime he’s investigating. After all, he’s got a 100 percent rating for solving all of his crimes! The show does a great job of using dark drama counter-played against an almost “Forrest Gump” (Tom Hanks) type of foundation.

Whichever the path the show is on to resolve the murder, it is the commitment to its focus that is unrelenting.

While Murdock’s intelligence and gifted science abilities are well portrayed and fun to watch, he’s aided by Dr. Julia Ogden, the Toronto City Coroner and love interest of the show, portrayed by Helene Joy. Kudos to Jennings for duly casting a female physician and lead, right in the early stages of the Women’s Movement of the 20th Century. She builds a lot of story around this fight and Ogden’s work is well recognized with Murdock’s in their duo crime solving. The chemistry and performances between Murdock and Ogden (Bisson and Joy) are engaging and well conceived. We’ve seen great chemistry in detective mysteries in the U.S., before in shows like Bones where Forensic Anthropologist Dr. Brennan (Emily Deschanel) and F.B.I. Special Agent Seeley Booth (David Boreanza), build an investigative team to solve murders and Castle, where mystery novelist Rick Castle (Nathan Fillion) and Detective Kate Beckett (Stana Katic), also solve murders in New York City. Why then, is there, befuddlement in the appeal to American critics and the breakdown in reaching American audiences as diagnosed by TV Critic, John Doyle?

 

Dr. Julia Ogden (Helene Joy) and Detective William Murdoch (Yannick Bisson) conduct an opium experiment in Season 9, episode 8, Pipe Dreamzzz.

The show is a Canadian production on the CBC network. In fact, Doyle points out that, “It’s a big, successful show. Except in the U.S. market. The CBC juggernaut Murdoch Mysteries is seen in about 120 countries around the world.” He headlines his review in 2016 with, “Murdoch Mysteries puzzles American critics”. Well perhaps American critics are puzzled but I can’t figure out why. You can find Murdoch Mysteries on Amazon’s Prime Video with a subscription to Acorn TV. I just couldn’t believe my find that included 13 seasons of great writing, awesome acting, and tons of fun in conception, especially when one is stuck in the house during a worldwide pandemic. I laughed, I cried, and I was cut to the core of shock sometimes with many of the societal norms deemed as unacceptable during this time in history and perhaps taken in by the supposition often asserted in Bones that Canadians were more kind and accepting than Americans ever were in history. I mean what more could I ask for in a new found treasure of viewing content?! So if you’re in need of something new and excellent to watch, take a gander in watching Murdoch Mysteries on Prime, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Superhero Vela Kurv Books

A Curvy Chick Production for Riley Rose superhero and graphic novels.

Ruby Rose as Batwoman on the CW Network

ENTERTAINMENT – Why ‘Batwoman’ Star Ruby Rose Left the CW Series

Ruby Rose’s surprise exit from the CW series “Batwoman” stemmed from an ill fit between star and production.

According to multiple sources, Rose was unhappy with the long hours required of her as the series lead, which led to friction on the set.

It was thus decided by her and the network and studio, Warner Bros. Television, that they would part ways. Reps for Rose, Warner Bros., and The CW declined to comment.

Rose’s time on “Batwoman” marked the first TV starring role of her career. She previously appeared on Netflix’s “Orange Is the New Black” and has appeared in supporting roles in several films to date.

Given the sudden nature of it, speculation has been rampant as to the reason for Rose’s exit from the series. It was speculated that it had something to do with pain associated with an emergency surgery Rose underwent for two herniated discs, but a source familiar with the situation tells Variety that Rose’s decision “had nothing to do with her health or injury.”

Rose has also been open about her mental health issues in the past. Back in October, she posted on Instagram “I’ve struggled with mental health my entire life.” She went on to say that she had attempted suicide multiple times and had been hospitalized at different times in her life.

In a statement issued announcing Rose’s departure, the studio, network, and Berlanti Productions said they would be seeking “a new lead actress and member of the LGBTQ community, in the coming months.”

“Batwoman” was renewed for a second season back in January. The show centers on Kate Kane, the cousin of Bruce Wayne and an out lesbian who assumes the titular mantle of Batwoman to protect Gotham City.

Superhero Vela Kurv Books

A Curvy Chick Production for Riley Rose superhero and graphic novels.

BUSINESS NEWS – Amazon quietly debuts new program for donating leftover products instead of destroying them

  • Amazon is launching a new program that allows third-party sellers to donate their excess and returned goods.
  • The company is partnering with charities and nonprofits in the United States and United Kingdom.
  • The launch comes after investigations found that Amazon destroys unsold products

Amazon is making a big push to help third-party sellers donate their unsold products instead of trashing them.

The online retail giant is launching a new program called Fulfillment by Amazon Donations, where eligible excess and returned products from sellers will be donated to nonprofits and charities in the United States and United Kingdom.

The donation program will kick off in September, and the donation option will automatically apply to inventory that sellers choose to dispose of manually, says an email that an Amazon seller appears to have recently received. CNBC earlier reported the program’s existence.

The launch comes after investigations from a French TV station and UK-based news outlet The Daily Mail found that Amazon destroys unsold items — even those that are worth hundreds of dollars. The French TV station, called M6, filmed a “destruction zone” where items are junked as part of a documentary.

In the US Amazon will be working with Good360, which partners with retailers and consumer goods companies to distribute products to nonprofit organizations. Amazon’s UK partners for the program include charities such as Newlife, Salvation Army, and Barnado’s.

The program is the latest effort by the Seattle-based e-commerce behemoth to make its delivery methods and processes less wasteful.

Earlier this year, the company set a goal to reach 50% of all Amazon shipments with net zero carbon by the year 2030, an initiative Amazon is calling “Shipment Zero.” It also works with manufacturer to help them design more sustainable packaging to cut down on waste throughout the supply chain.

Superhero Vela Kurv Books

A Curvy Chick Production for Riley Rose superhero and graphic novels.

First Lady Michelle Obama

ENTERTAINMENT – ‘Becoming’ Offers A Revealing But Selective View Of Michelle Obama

A new Netflix documentary reflects on Michelle Obama’s days in the White House. It takes place during her book tour and was produced by the Obamas’ Higher Ground Productions. Netflix/Courtesy of Netflix

It’s telling that the most barbed political criticism Michelle Obama drops in her new Netflix documentary Becoming isn’t about Donald Trump’s birtherism or the commentators who tried to dismiss her as an angry black woman.

Instead, she criticizes fickle Democratic supporters while talking about Trump’s 2017 inauguration in a roundtable discussion.

“The day I left the White House, I write about how painful it was to sit on that stage — a lot of our folks didn’t vote,” she says in the film, which debuts Wednesday. “So it was almost like, a slap in the face.”

Moments later, she expands on that idea, “I understand the people who voted for Trump, [but] the people who didn’t vote at all — the young people, the women — that’s when you think, man, people think this is a game.”

The backbone of the documentary comes from footage filmed behind-the-scenes and onstage during the 34-stop tour to promote her best-selling memoir, also called Becoming. The tour featured celebrity hosts like Oprah Winfrey interviewing the former First Lady in arenas packed with fans; she spoke on everything from visiting a marriage counselor with her husband to raising young black children in a mansion like the White House.

Netflix Premieres First Ever Documentary About Black Women CEOs

Her concern: during a visit with Laura Bush, she noticed the White House butlers were African American and Latino men decked out in tuxedoes.

“I didn’t want them growing up thinking grown African American men served them in tuxedoes,” she says. “The truth was that some of those men were (like) my uncles — they were the Pullman porters and other folks — I didn’t want my girls to grow up with that image.”

Race is, of course, a huge subject in the film, as Michelle Obama details feeling immense pressure to be perfect as wife to the first black president. For fans who admire the family and their message of inclusion, Becoming will be a bittersweet reminder of how differently the White House’s current occupants conduct themselves.

Still, when young people ask Michelle Obama how to face the often-intangible forces of systemic prejudice and tribalism, Michelle Obama has a consistent answer: Stay focused. Work hard. Never accept a limiting label.

“I never felt invisible,” she says, praising her parents for teaching her confidence. “We can’t afford to wait for the world to be equal to start feeling seen.”

When a Native American student tells her he felt uneasy in classes with students wearing Trump hats, she responds: “So you’re in school. Be in school. Get your frickin’ education. Barack and I, all through this presidency, through the lies and the stuff they said about us, all we could do was wake up every day and do our jobs. Let our jobs and our lives speak for itself.”

Michelle Obama Tells The Story Of 'Becoming' Herself — And The Struggle To Hang On

That sounds an awful lot like putting the burden on oppressed people to transcend their own oppression. The Obamas have faced criticism in the past for such “respectability politics” — which also imply that if a person of color doesn’t succeed, perhaps it’s because they didn’t try hard enough. (Remember those Democratic voters who stayed home?)

It would have been compelling to see Michelle Obama face some tough questions from someone who legitimately challenges her ideas. But Becoming is produced by the Obamas’ Higher Ground Productions, following in the footsteps of other recent documentaries — like ESPN’s The Last Dance or Hulu’s Hillary — which counted on significant participation and support from key subjects to succeed.

As good as all of these efforts are, there is also a sense that they can only go so far in challenging their superstar subjects. In Becoming‘s case, that means a distinct lack of critics shown onscreen and moments that feel too much like an ad for the boss.

Despite Michelle Obama’s candor, Becoming offers a selective view. Barack Obama doesn’t sit for an exclusive interview; daughters Sasha and Malia speak in just a few places. And the former First Lady avoids any direct criticism of political rivals, continuing to go high when others might consider going low.

Even with its flaws, Becoming is a compelling documentary, offering a carefully revealing look at a whip smart, ferociously practical woman trying to understand how her historic time in the White House changed herself, her family and the nation.

A Curvy Chicks Production

ENTERTAINMENT – Netflix Premieres First Ever Documentary About Black Women CEOs

Black women CEOs and entrepreneurs are the stars of the newest Netflix documentary called She Did That.

Filmmaker and blogger Renae L. Bluitt created the documentary to promote a more accurate representation in the media of Black female business owners.

She Did That is Bluitt’s first cinematic project, and as a digital content creator and PR consultant, she has been writing about the entrepreneurial pursuits of Black women on her blog, In Her Shoes, for nearly a decade. But now the topic is being brought to the world’s attention via the world’s most popular streaming service.

The film revolves around the lives of four Black women entrepreneurs, their journeys, and how they face issues such as the funding gap for Black women.

Inspired by #BlackGirlMagic, Bluitt wanted to show how Black women turn challenges into opportunities and become an inspiration to the next generation.

“As the fastest group of entrepreneurs in this country, [Black women] are literally turning water into wine in spite of the many obstacles we face on our entrepreneurial journeys. This film was created to let the world know what it really takes to be a successful Black woman entrepreneur in this world. Platforms like social media only show us the results and the highlights, but “She Did That” pulls back the curtain to reveal how and why we do it,” Bluitt told Forbes.

She Did That highlights the perseverance and determination of Lisa Price, the founder of hair care brand Carol’s Daughter; Melissa Butler, the founder of beauty brand The Lip Bar; Tonya Rapley, the founder of My Fab Finance; and Luvvie Ajayi, a New York Times best-selling author, speaker and digital strategist.

A new Netflix documentary reflects on Michelle Obama’s days in the White House. It takes place during her book tour and was produced by the Obamas’ Higher Ground Productions. Netflix/Courtesy of Netflix

For the project, Bluitt intentionally hired a camera crew of Black women as well as production staff, assistants, and researchers for filming locations. In addition, after almost 2 years of filming, the documentary premiered at a sold-out screening event at ESSENCE Festival in New Orleans. It has since been screened at several HBCUs and other cities in partnership with organizations that cater to Black women.

Bluitt said she is overwhelmed with the opportunity to partner with Netflix. Now with a wider audience, she hopes that the film willl touch more Black women’s lives.

“I want women to know that even the most successful women in business have experienced the challenges and obstacles they face while building their brands. We all make mistakes, learn from them, and stop to refuel or keep going even stronger. I want women to know they are not alone in their fears and the biggest takeaway is this – if the women in this film can do it, you can do it, too!”

Stream it now on Netflix by visiting netflix.com/title/81194454

Continue on to Black Business to read the complete article.

A Curvy Chick Production

ENTERTAINMENT – Bridget Foley’s Diary: Fisher-Price’s New Spin on Action Heroes

They don’t wear capes. A new line by the Mattel subsidiary honors the front-line fighters of the coronavirus pandemic.

 

Reprint from WWD. By Bridget Foley on May 7, 2020

Everyone old enough to remember 9/11 has very specific recollections of that morning. Fisher-Price executive Chuck Scothon was awaiting news of a a press conference for what now seems an eerily prescient product launch — an FDNY action figure. It was an addition to the company’s “Rescue Heroes,” series, sales of which would benefit an FDNY-related charity. The press conference never happened. The action figure did, with Fisher-Price and Toys ‘R’ Us, its partner in the project, upping the philanthropic aspect to 100 percent of sales.

Read about Mattel’s new line of Barbie’s on RileyRoseAuthor’s post Mattel Releases A New Barbie Line!

Last week, Fisher-Price and parent company Mattel debuted another Heroes series, an uplifting, feel-good/do-good effort, the timing of which is not accidental. #ThankYouHeroes is the first initiative under Mattel’s new cross-brand Play It Forward platform, focusing on ways to give back to communities in need. The Fisher-Price launch features action-figure heroes of the coronavirus era — doctor, nurse, EMT, delivery worker. Each comes in female and male versions, as well as different skin tones (if not specific ethnicities), a total of 16 total doll options. In addition, there’s a “Little People Community Champions” set, part of an ongoing Fisher-Price line. It’s a lineup of five essential-worker heroes, those noted above, plus a grocery worker.

“It’s about saying thank you, and honoring the people who are doing so much for others,” said Scothon, now senior vice president of Fisher-Price and global head of infant and preschool, Mattel.

The action figures, sold separately, and the Little People set are $20 each with $15 per item going to #FirstRespondersFirst, in support of front-line health-care workers.

From left: The Nurses, The Delivery Drivers   Courtesy of Fisher-Price

All sales are direct-to-consumer. The company is taking online orders through May 31 with delivery promised by Dec. 31. (The date’s a legal thing, with Christmas the obvious goal, and home deliveries starting in September.) The action figures exude wholesome power, and the Little People, a cuteness befitting the younger-skewing age target. Both could have a profound, lasting impact on the way kids view various employment roles.

Yet kids aren’t the project’s only intended market. While the typical action-figure demographic is between three and eight years old, early indications suggest far wider appeal. “I would call it three to 99,” Scothon said. “It’s striking a chord with everybody. We’re finding that adults are falling in love with these as well.”

The multitiered consumer interest as indicated by comments on the brand’s web site and social media outlets reflects the brand’s pre-launch expectations. Of course, people are ordering for their kids. But they’re also buying to say thank you to the front-line workers in their lives, and for the fundraising aspect. “It really is a little bit of everything, and I think that’s why it’s captured the imaginations of so many.”

See Also: How to Help Those In Need During the Coronavirus Crisis

The project came together quickly — about five weeks from first glimmer to available for pre-order. At least the digital incarnation happened fast; the visuals here and on the point-of-sale web site are digital, with actual prototypes still in development. While a typical doll launch takes up to 18 months from development to consumer reveal, here, speed was of the essence. “We knew that we could move fastest and raise the most money if we did this direct-to-consumer,” Scothon said.

“Our focus was on being able to say thank you now,” he continued. “It’s a slightly different business model. Typically, you design the product, you manufacture the product and then you ultimately get it to retail and [learn] the consumer response. This business model is selling it now, taking orders first and then delivering going forward…We were able to flip the model. That’s why we’ve been able to go so fast.”

Scothon and his colleagues were inspired by the global gratitude they’ve observed from the onset of the pandemic. Watching the evening news, he noted that almost invariably, the first 25 minutes are about the hard, difficult news while the last five focus on gratitude. He cited examples from American police and firefighters lining up outside hospitals to thank first responders, to people on their balconies in Italy and New York, cheering health-care workers.

“Thank You Heroes came from [us] watching that outpouring of gratitude and thinking of how can we help people express their gratitude,” Scothon said. Mattel was already producing PPE for health-care professionals, making cloth masks and face shields, and has committed to 500,000 of the latter. “But our secret sauce is toys,” he said. “Toys are a great way to say thank you in a unique and fun way.”

The EMTs  Courtesy of Fisher-Price

What better conduit than dolls to represent essential workers, both within and outside of the realm? “We realized that what we do best, which is making product, could honor those on the front lines, including new heroes, like grocery workers and delivery workers; raise money for those first responders, and at the same time potentially bring a smile during a very challenging time.”

In selecting the characters to portray, Scothon said that health-care workers were obvious; “they’re truly on the front lines and being discussed every day.” So, too, “the new hero” delivery and grocery workers. “They’re keeping our economy going, and we wanted to embody and celebrate them.’”

The grocery worker appears only in the Little People set, not as an action figure. In the interest of speed, designers adapted some “existing assets” which were broadly, but not totally, adaptable. “We didn’t feel that we could properly dimensionalize the grocery store worker in the action-figure pose and structure in a way that [worked], We decided to [depict] the four that we felt we could [successfully] honor through action figures, and [include the grocery worker] in the Little People, where we could still honor them, but with a different style and look.”

See Also: How These Influencers Used Social Media Clout to Raise Money for Frontline Workers’ PPE

Online comments indicate that many people love the idea and execution:

“My children have almost every single Imaginex toy that has been made in the last eight years. These are such a great addition to that collection!”

“Thanks so much for recognizing nurses during this time (all while contributing to a great cause)…I am also happy my girls will have some brave, courageous nurses to play with. Love, An RN”

“My daughter is an RN who works on a COVID-19 unit here in Massachusetts. This is a wonderful way to commemorate her work and willingness to risk herself to help those who are sick with this illness. Her courage and caring make her a real Hometown Hero.”

“I can’t wait to give this to my husband! Thank you for appreciating the workers who handle the shipping and delivery of much-needed necessities.”

However, as the old adage goes, you can’t please everyone. Some commenters suggested a level of customization that in fashion we’d call couture, calling for multiple options for each of the jobs represented. There are numerous comments about the dearth of blondes (“Love to get one for my daughter who is a blonde RN with long hair”) and other calls for very specific inclusivity. One woman noted while she loves the idea, she’s a 68-year-old nurse. “How about recognizing the older RNs,” she queries.

Little People Community Champions.  Courtesy of Fisher-Price

There are calls, too, for broader job representation, from respiratory therapist to postal worker to longshoreman. As for the figures’ professional trappings, a number of postings question why the nurse figures have an otoscope, and one commenter finds the delivery-worker uniform too FedEx-y.

Jeeze. Whiney much — given the impossibility of acknowledging with a doll every job function and hair color (and length) participating in fighting the pandemic? Not according to Scothon. He finds such feedback informative and inspirational.

“It shows that the program is connecting with people in a very powerful and emotional way,” he said. “It’s important for us to understand the broader [perspective] of how people are seeing heroes. It gives us much to think about, for the future, as to how we redefine heroes. People have responded to the program, and they’re looking for themselves.”

“It goes back to that one word — honor, honoring front-line heroes,” he continued. “We want to recognize that there are so many people out there doing their best to make a difference in this world. We we want to honor them.”

While many of the comments highlight the appeal of the action figures as gifts for adults working in the pandemic’s front lines, they are toys for children. As such, they can leave lasting impressions on their youngest recipients — a point obviously not lost on the Fisher-Price executive. “We believe that toys can have a purpose and an impact far greater than just the moment,” Scothon said. “It’s the way kids learn, it’s the way they develop. Toys are one way to show kids who the heroes are, that they don’t just wear capes.”

Superhero Vela Kurv Books

A Curvy Chick Production for Riley Rose superhero and graphic novels.

 

 

AMC Theatres’ Fight With Universal Pictures

ENTERTAINMENT – Adam Driver to Star in Jeff Nichols’ Next Film ‘Yankee Comandante’ (EXCLUSIVE)

By Justin Kroll. Reprint from Variety

Adam Driver (Star Wars star) will star in an adaptation of “Yankee Comandante,” Variety has learned.

“Mud” director Jeff Nichols is writing and helming the pic, marking a reunion for the pair, who worked together on 2016’s “Midnight Special.” While production start dates are up in the air due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has shuttered the industry, sources say shooting is expected to begin in 2021.

Imperative Entertainment and 30West are in discussions with select studios about the project, with the package shopped to distributors earlier this week.

The film is based on David Grann’s New Yorker article about two people who rose to the rank of comandante during the Cuban Revolution. One was Che Guevara. The other was a man from Ohio.

Read about the new Wonder Woman 1984 film blogpost and review here, Wonder Woman 84 on HBO.

Driver most recently starred in Netflix’s “Marriage Story” and Amazon’s “The Report,” with his role in the former earning him several awards nominations, including an Oscar nod. He also reprised his portrayal of Kylo Ren in the final installment in the Skywalker saga, “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.”

The Problem With Virtual Film Festivals (Column)

Prior to industrywide production shutdowns caused by the coronavirus crisis, Driver was shooting Ridley Scott’s latest period drama, “The Last Duel,” opposite Ben Affleck, Matt Damon and Jodie Comer.

Best known for his original dramas like “Midnight Special,” “Take Shelter” and “Mud,” Nichols most recently helmed the critically acclaimed “Loving.” The film earned rave reviews and an Oscar nomination for Ruth Negga.

Driver is repped by Gersh and Sloane, Offer, Weber and Dern. Nichols is repped by CAA and Goodman, Genow, Schenkman, Smelkinson and Christopher.

Does Anyone Win in AMC Theatres’ Fight With Universal Pictures?

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Adam Driver (Star Wars star) embarks on a new project

ENTERTAINMENT – The Problem With Virtual Film Festivals (Column)

SXSW partnered with Amazon, Tribeca is in talks with YouTube (and 20 other festivals) to go virtual. So why are you underwhelmed?

Michael Buckner/Variety/Shutters

On Monday, Amazon Prime launched a streaming version of the SXSW Film Festival, partnering with the Austin-based event to deliver a handful of movies free until May 6.

In theory, it’s a brilliant solution: Going virtual gives any cinephile access to the spring’s coolest pop-culture gathering — a gathering at which no one was actually able to gather this year, as SXSW became the first domino to fall in the still-cascading line of public events canceled by the coronavirus.

Many more festivals, from Hot Docs (which will do a geo-localized online version of the fest exclusively for Ontario audiences) to Fantasia (the Montreal-based genre-movie banquet, which announced plans for an online program on Wednesday), are looking to go the same route. Also on Monday, the Tribeca Institute announced a partnership between more than 20 film festivals, whereby YouTube will host something called the We Are One global film festival, starting May 29.

Trouble is, in practice, this approach isn’t so great. Check out the SXSW package on Amazon, and you’ll find a bunch of shorts, a few indie TV pilots (including Amazon’s own “Tales From the Loop”) and just seven of the 120-plus features that were originally scheduled to play the festival in March. If you don’t live in Austin but have long heard of this mythic utopia where Mumblecore began and Judd Apatow movies premiere, you could be forgiven for thinking, “I don’t get it. What’s the big deal?”

Adam Driver to Star in Jeff Nichols’ Next Film ‘Yankee Comandante’ (EXCLUSIVE)

 

Listen, I love what this Amazon/SXSW partnership represents, and I’m dying to know what the We Are One lineup will look like. All these cancellations have dealt a huge blow to the entertainment industry. Without festivals, filmmakers can’t share their work, audiences are deprived the opportunity to discover new voices, sales agents have a tough time finding buyers, distributors can’t fill their upcoming slates, and critics can’t kvetch. (Oh, who am I kidding? Critics can always kvetch.)

But let’s be real: Most filmmakers aren’t willing to let their work be shown this way. It’s not that they’re opposed to streaming — a great many of them will wind up on such platforms down the road anyway. It’s just that these indie talents have spent years creating the films that were set to premiere at SXSW, Tribeca, etc., and now they’re having to rethink how best to share that work with the world.

If sharing their films were the only goal, then virtual festivals would be perfect. They stand to reach more people than they ever would in Austin. That’s the justification Alex Lee Moyer gave for including her feature debut, the controversial incel portrait “TFW NO GF,” which is all about isolation, loneliness and the social distancing that was already happening to our culture before the COVID-19 outbreak. (Pro tip: Watch it!) But doing so meant disrupting the the industry’s business model.

To potential distributors, participating in the Amazon showcase isn’t perceived as being included in a virtual festival. It’s tantamount to giving away first streaming rights — one of the most valuable assets in an indie film’s quiver. Plus, there’s the very real risk that once the movies go up on Amazon or whatever streaming platform steps up to host a virtual festival, pirates will come along and rip it.

Amazon didn’t publicize the fact, but 10 days earlier, it pulled an epic “oopsie,” posting MGM’s not-yet-released Tiffany Haddish movie “Bad Trip” on the service. The service promptly took it down, but too late: The movie’s widely available on the Torrent sites. Now, for a movie like “TFW NO GF,” that’s probably a good thing. What better way to reach the digitally-savvy shut-ins the documentary is about? But for a movie with commercial potential, such a leak could be devastating.

To understand what’s working against any film making its debut via an online festival, consider that the most valuable thing festival movies have is their premiere status. A “world premiere” is a movie that’s showing for the very first time, and everyone — be it Cannes, Sundance or SXSW — wants those. If a festival lines up enough world premieres of a certain level, it has no trouble attracting press and industry to attend. Buyers come looking for new movies, and thus a market is born.

Obviously, a movie can only world premiere once, and its handlers have to be strategic about where that happens. So, when SXSW announces its lineup, but can’t host the 100 or so premieres they’d planned, those films are faced with a quandary, for which there are 100 or so different answers: What do you do about your world premiere status, which remains intact, but compromised?

Do you withdraw the film and save it for a future event? (At some point, this pandemic will calm, and festivals will want your film. After all, it was selected by SXSW — or Tribeca, or whatever — so you actually have the cachet/credibility of that.) Do you rush it out some other way, as Netflix did SXSW selection “Uncorked” and Tribeca-intended “The Half of It”? (That only works if you already have distribution, or were lucky enough to be acquired outside the festival, as Boaz Yakin’s “Aviva” was.) Or do you roll the dice and participate in a virtual festival?

Now, if you’re following my logic so far, you may have concluded that only “the dregs” of the selection would go that route. That’s not entirely fair. Judging by the films available to stream to press and industry via SXSW’s and Tribeca’s private extranet services (streaming platforms, like Shift72, whose access is carefully limited to critics and buyers credentialed by the host festivals), the sparkly titles opt out, and we’re left with those with more need for coverage or a deal. There are great films among them, but they are the ones most likely to slip through the cracks had the in-person festival happened as planned.

To better understand the kind of filmmakers might be receptive to participating in a virtual festival, let’s take a closer look at the seven that agreed to be guinea pigs in this SXSW package: Four are narratives, all foreign; three are docs, only two of which were premieres. I suspect that sales agents for the four overseas titles wagered that they had little to no chance of an American release anyway, and this Amazon exposure could only help. (The two French movies, “Selfie” and “Le Choc du Futur,” both opened in their home market earlier this year and aren’t the sort to attract U.S. distribution.) Documentary helmers seem more willing to take the plunge — as CPH:DOX and Hot Docs have shown — perhaps because their projects are born out of a spirit of activism rather than profit. Just look at last week’s Michael Moore-produced “Planet of the Humans,” the goal of which is simply to be seen as broadly as possible, and therefore released free on YouTube.

None of this is meant to reflect badly on SXSW, which has an amazing track record for finding strong and interesting work. In fact, Amazon snapped up the irreverent human-hunting comedy-thriller “Boyz in the Wood” out of SXSW last year, and plans to release it later this year on Prime. Judge SXSW by that movie instead, or Apatow’s “The King of Staten Island” — which was supposed to kick off the 2020 edition — when Universal releases it to PVOD in June. My point is, these virtual festivals are doomed to disappoint, at least in the near term, because they’re too disruptive to the business model.

So what are we to make of the ambitious We Are One announcement? Well, it’s an inspiring sign of solidarity between festivals, all of which have been hit hard by the coronavirus. Just this week, the Karlovy Vary and Locarno festivals announced they would be canceling, and France’s prime minister made clear that no large public events would be happening in his country until at least September. Personally, I’d be surprised to see any film festival happen in the 2020 calendar year, which means Toronto and others who’ve pledged to innovate hybrid options will need to think long and hard about how to improve this model.

One solution appears to be geo-blocking, a technology which allows community-based festivals to serve audiences in the same region — and only that region — who might have attended in-person under normal circumstances. Copenhagen-based CPH:DOX combined such restrictions with settings that limit the number of streams of any given film. Both tools allow virtual festivals to more closely resemble the events they were designed to replace. The disappointment occurs when a festival announces a robust lineup, only to deliver a small fraction of those films online. But as the coronavirus cancellations continue, these events have an opportunity: to curate a lineup that will be available in its entirety online, consisting only of movies whose creators are open to screening virtually.

The Tribeca-driven We Are One event promises to offer films curated by more than 20 international festivals, but we already know that participants such as Cannes and Venice don’t plan to screen premieres online, because their directors have quite vocally said as much. By banding together, the others can probably muster more than seven movies for the public to see, but don’t be surprised if the lineup is made up mostly of shorts and non-premiere offerings — perhaps movies from past editions, or those that have opened in their home countries. There are hundreds of exceptional movies that fit that bill, and heaven knows, audiences are hungry for fresh things to watch. Just don’t mistake a virtual festival for anything like the real thing.

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SXSW and Virtual Film Festivals

ENTERTAINMENT – Does Anyone Win in AMC Theatres’ Fight With Universal Pictures?

Picture from Universal, Rebecca Rubin, Brent Lang. Reprint from Variety

Exhibitors and studios might be well served to remember a saying from Mahatma Gandhi — “An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.”

Instead of heeding the words of the Indian nationalist, the two camps are locked in a deadly struggle, one fueled by ego, distrust, and recrimination, that will likely leave both sides gravely wounded unless, or until, cooler heads prevail.

Tensions between AMC Theatres and Universal Pictures reached a boiling point Tuesday night, ending in an explosive proclamation that the world’s largest theater chain would no longer play movies from one of the biggest studios in Hollywood.

The seeming declaration of war was triggered after Universal took a victory lap in the press, touting better-than-expected success for “Trolls World Tour.”

The studio decided last month to move its animated sequel to “Trolls” directly on premium video-on-demand — and in a handful of drive-ins across the country — when it became clear cinemas would have to close amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Exhibitors’ eyebrows were raised, particularly as Universal made its announcement before the shutdown went into effect, but they ultimately accepted it given circumstances and a general understanding that studios would otherwise wait until multiplexes reopen to showcase their most anticipated films. But the claws didn’t come out until NBCUniversal’s CEO Jeff Shell suggested on Tuesday that Universal might start to simultaneously release some movies in theaters and on-demand, even after the pandemic subsides.

“As soon as theaters reopen, we expect to release movies on both formats,” Shell told the Wall Street Journal.

Shell’s comments were interpreted as fighting words to those in the business of showing movies on the big screen. And there are other reasons relations have grown strained. Before taking a shot across exhibition’s bow, Universal reported a day earlier that Pete Davidson and Judd Apatow’s comedy “The King of Staten Island,” would also forgo a theatrical release and drop on digital rental platforms in June.

AMC’s CEO and president Adam Aron called Shell’s remarks “unacceptable.”

“This radical change by Universal to the business model that currently exists between our two companies represents nothing but downside for us and is categorically unacceptable to AMC Entertainment,” Aron wrote in a letter to the studio Tuesday night, announcing his venues would ban Universal’s movies. “Accordingly, we want to be absolutely clear, so that there is no ambiguity of any kind. AMC believes that with this proposed action to go to the home and theaters simultaneously, Universal is breaking the business model and dealings between our two companies.”

A spokesperson for Universal Pictures responded at the time, defending the studio and saying Shell’s comments were misconstrued.

“Our desire has always been to efficiently deliver entertainment to as wide an audience as possible. We absolutely believe in the theatrical experience and have made no statement to the contrary,” the studio said Tuesday evening.

It remains to be seen if Universal is going to continue playing around with theaters’ exclusive access to its films. But if Aron makes good on the threat, that would deprive Universal of thousands of screens to play movies — and pissing off the world’s largest exhibitor will take a big chunk out of the studio’s box office earnings. For AMC, which was struggling even before forced closures due to the pandemic, icing out Universal means the circuit won’t be able to screen the next “Fast & Furious” flick or “Jurassic World” sequel. Those are the kind of blockbusters that can be counted on not just to sell tickets, but also tons of popcorn and concession stand treats that exhibitors rely on to boost revenues.

Aron said AMC would also cut ties with any studio “contemplating a wholesale change to the status quo.” Cineworld, the owner of Regal Entertainment, took a less radical stance, barring anything that threatens to disrupt the way movies traditionally arrive in theaters, but stopping short of a total ban on Universal titles.

“Universal unilaterally chose to break our understanding and did so at the height of the Covid-19 crisis when our business is closed, more than 35,000 employees are at home and when we do not yet have a clear date for the reopening of our cinemas,” Cineworld said Wednesday in a statement.

Other movie theater chains are being tight-lipped about whether they are following Aron’s lead, arguing that conversations between the two parties should remain private.

For decades, studios and exhibitors have debated the utility and length of theatrical windows, industry speak for the amount of time a movie plays exclusively in cinemas. Films commonly run in theaters for 90 days before they are available to watch on home entertainment through video-on-demand. Studios have attempted to shorten that gap, in an effort to reduce marketing costs. They believe that they will get more bang for their buck by having movies debut on in the home shortly after they have blanketed the airwaves for theatrical releases. But theater chains have been concerned that audiences will be less inclined to buy tickets if they can see the movie on their couch just a few weeks later.

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“As soon as theaters reopen, we expect to release movies on both formats,” Shell told the Wall Street Journal.

Shell’s comments were interpreted as fighting words to those in the business of showing movies on the big screen. And there are other reasons relations have grown strained. Before taking a shot across exhibition’s bow, Universal reported a day earlier that Pete Davidson and Judd Apatow’s comedy “The King of Staten Island,” would also forgo a theatrical release and drop on digital rental platforms in June.

AMC’s CEO and president Adam Aron called Shell’s remarks “unacceptable.”

“This radical change by Universal to the business model that currently exists between our two companies represents nothing but downside for us and is categorically unacceptable to AMC Entertainment,” Aron wrote in a letter to the studio Tuesday night, announcing his venues would ban Universal’s movies. “Accordingly, we want to be absolutely clear, so that there is no ambiguity of any kind. AMC believes that with this proposed action to go to the home and theaters simultaneously, Universal is breaking the business model and dealings between our two companies.”

A spokesperson for Universal Pictures responded at the time, defending the studio and saying Shell’s comments were misconstrued.

“Our desire has always been to efficiently deliver entertainment to as wide an audience as possible. We absolutely believe in the theatrical experience and have made no statement to the contrary,” the studio said Tuesday evening.

It remains to be seen if Universal is going to continue playing around with theaters’ exclusive access to its films. But if Aron makes good on the threat, that would deprive Universal of thousands of screens to play movies — and pissing off the world’s largest exhibitor will take a big chunk out of the studio’s box office earnings. For AMC, which was struggling even before forced closures due to the pandemic, icing out Universal means the circuit won’t be able to screen the next “Fast & Furious” flick or “Jurassic World” sequel. Those are the kind of blockbusters that can be counted on not just to sell tickets, but also tons of popcorn and concession stand treats that exhibitors rely on to boost revenues.

Aron said AMC would also cut ties with any studio “contemplating a wholesale change to the status quo.” Cineworld, the owner of Regal Entertainment, took a less radical stance, barring anything that threatens to disrupt the way movies traditionally arrive in theaters, but stopping short of a total ban on Universal titles.

“Universal unilaterally chose to break our understanding and did so at the height of the Covid-19 crisis when our business is closed, more than 35,000 employees are at home and when we do not yet have a clear date for the reopening of our cinemas,” Cineworld said Wednesday in a statement.

Other movie theater chains are being tight-lipped about whether they are following Aron’s lead, arguing that conversations between the two parties should remain private.

For decades, studios and exhibitors have debated the utility and length of theatrical windows, industry speak for the amount of time a movie plays exclusively in cinemas. Films commonly run in theaters for 90 days before they are available to watch on home entertainment through video-on-demand. Studios have attempted to shorten that gap, in an effort to reduce marketing costs. They believe that they will get more bang for their buck by having movies debut on in the home shortly after they have blanketed the airwaves for theatrical releases. But theater chains have been concerned that audiences will be less inclined to buy tickets if they can see the movie on their couch just a few weeks later.

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“I’ve always believed exhibitors hold the upper hand in these negotiations, even if Universal’s stance was to circumvent the theaters,” said Eric Wold, an analyst with B. Riley FBR. “If all exhibitors banded together, it would be tough for the studios to stand against them.”

Others maintain it’s the studios, who are responsible for producing content, wielding the power.

“Theaters need to stand in solidarity because the theatrical window is the lifeblood of theaters,” said Jeff Bock, a box office analyst with Exhibitor Relations. “It prevents them from having to compete against video-on-demand. Now Universal is saying, ‘We’re going to see film by film.’ [Shutdowns due to coronavirus] are affecting everyone, but theaters stand to lose the most.”

In any case, exhibitor’s leverage isn’t what it once was, however. Theaters are struggling to pay their rents and plan for uncertain re-opening protocols. When they do get the all-clear to reopen, the hope is that new safety guidelines will be enough to persuade consumers to check out the multiplexes, but it’s unclear if that will be the case.

Privately, some theater owners were rattled by what felt like a lack of solidarity from Universal at a time when their business is in free-fall and they are unable to generate any income. Roughly 150,000 cinema workers across the country have been furloughed or laid off, and many exhibitors are worried that they won’t be to go back to making money any time soon.

With theaters closed, on-demand platforms are booming. Universal estimates about five million people rented “Trolls World Tour,” generating roughly $100 million in sales. Studios keep nearly 80% of revenue from premium video-on-demand rentals, compared to only 50% of traditional tickets. Universal trumpeted that its “Trolls” follow-up was more lucrative after only three weeks of digital release than the original film was over its entire five-month run in North American theaters. However, those stats don’t mention international figures. Overseas audiences largely contributed to the financial success of the first “Trolls.”

Analysts also point out that “Trolls World Tour” represents a unique situation, because families are stuck at home. And while it might have paid off generously for Universal with this particular offering, cutting off theatrical revenue can limit intake from ancillary sales down the line.

“Universal was the first to jump on this very early, and for them it made sense. They did a ton of marketing and had promotional tie-ins that they couldn’t recreate if they pushed the film,” Wold said. “I don’t expect a lot of what’s happening right now to be happening a year from now. They had to play up what they could, but it’s a very incomplete picture of what the film could have done.”

Rival studios have experimented with digital releases while cinemas are closed. But, for the moment, those companies have largely remained in theater owners’ good graces. That’s because, in the case of Disney putting “Artemis Fowl” on its subscription streaming service and Warner Bros. sending “Scoob” straight to digital rental services, neither were market as day-and-date releases that will premiere simultaneously in theaters and on-demand. Moreover, Disney and Warner Bros. have endeared themselves to exhibitors by keeping upcoming releases on the summer movie calendar. While Universal pushed most of its big films, such as “Fast 9,” into 2021, Warner Bros. is holding firm with plans to debut Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” in July and “Wonder Woman: 1984” in August. Disney is moving forward with a July release of “Mulan,” as well.

In a recent Variety interview, National Association of Theatre Owners chief John Fithian singled out both studios for praise. “These two studios are signaling that they are fully committed to the theatrical model,” he said. The exhibition industry’s top lobbyist went on to predict, “Other studios that pushed their titles way, way to later in the year or into next year, I think they’re missing out on a resurgence of moviegoing, and I think they’re going to regret that and reconsider.”

Most major movie theaters won’t be able to open again until the end of summer, at the earliest, leaving ample time for the two companies to make nice. In the interim, AMC could leverage their sweeping statement against Universal to negotiate a happy medium that could appease both sides.

“If it is content that wears the crown, studios are going to be in a very good place in terms of negotiations, and that puts theaters into a corner,” Bock said. “These discussions have to change from the traditional 50-50 [revenue split] and have to start looking at fluid release changes depending on how films do in the first couple months.”

In the short run, this battle will only serve to damage an exhibition business that’s facing an existential crisis. No one wins that kind of fight.