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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Anywhere but your backyard! Spielberg gets reprieve to keep Dreamworks alive. Hunger Games loses Helmer. Britney Spears to join X-Factor? Disney continues seeking its future in China

 Photo: George Lucas is seen at Skywalker Ranch in San Rafael, Calif., in 2005. Credit: Eric Risberg / Associated Press

The force wasn't with George Lucas -- at least in his latest building plans. Lucasfilm, the company behind the "Star Wars" movies, said it was scrapping plans to build a huge studio facility in Marin County, citing longstanding opposition from homeowners.

"The level of bitterness and anger expressed by the homeowners in Lucas Valley has convinced us that, even if we were able to spend more time to acquire the necessary approvals, we would not be able to maintain a constructive relationship with our neighbors,'' Lucasfilm said in a statement Tuesday. "We love working and living in Marin, but the residents of Lucas Valley have fought this project for 25 years."

Lucasfilm moved its headquarters and most of its employees, including its visual effects unit ILM, to the Presidio in San Francisco several years ago because it outgrew its location at Skywalker Ranch in Lucas Valley.

The Marin County planning commission in February approved plans for 269,000-square-foot production facility on nearby Grady Ranch, about 15 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge.  But the project sparked heavy opposition from neighbors who complained it would create noise, traffic and environmental problems.

"We need the spaces we build to do our work,'' Lucasfilm said. "Movies are waiting to be made, and we must move forward."

SAG-AFTRA-ACTOR NOTE: Even George Lucas faces Californians bias against the "industrial" nature of film studios and the motion picture industry.  Similar objections by residents have killed studio plans in Nevada in areas reanging from Henderson to Apex, Reno to Stateline.

Daily Dose: On paper it sounds like a big deal that Fox Sports filed an objection Tuesday in bankruptcy court to the sale of the Dodgers from Frank McCourt to a group fronted by Magic Johnson. But in reality, Fox is just doing its due diligence and needed to put on record that it wants written assurances that Time Warner Cable, which is starting a Los Angeles sports channel that will compete with Fox's two channels here, has no involvement with the new ownership.

Made in China. The Walt Disney Co., which certainly knows a few things about cartoons, is offering its expertise to China. Disney said it will partner with China's Ministry of Culture and China's largest Internet company, Tencent Holdings Ltd., to develop content. Disney views China as a big priority and is already building a theme park there. More on its animation plans from the Los Angeles Times. Won't this mean the loss of even more American jobs and the slow death of our proudest export...the entertainment industry?

 Photo: DreamWorks' Steven Spielberg and Stacey Snider at the premiere of "Cowboys and Aliens." Credit: Alex Berliner / ABImages

 Spielberg rescued with cash infusion. DreamWorks Studios, Steven Spielberg's production company, has renewed its financing deal with primary backer Reliance Entertainment, an Indian media conglomerate. According to the New York Times, as part of the new arrangement, DreamWorks will make fewer movies. Since it only has two films in the works for 2013 so far, I'm not sure what fewer will mean.

A shortage of cash since late last year has left many in Hollywood nervous about DreamWorks' future. The company, led by Chief Executive Stacey Snider, severely cut back on its spending on development and production.

The independent studio has only two movies set to come out this year -- the low-budget drama "People Like Us" and the Spielberg-directed biopic "Lincoln" -- compared with six in 2011, the first year that it released films in its current incarnation.

After raising $325 million from Reliance and another $325 million in debt in 2009, DreamWorks immediately ran into trouble when its first movies, the young adult science-fiction film "I Am Number Four" and the big-budget comic book adaptation "Cowboys & Aliens," flopped. Academy Award nominee "The Help" was a hit, but the remake of "Fright Night" was also a disappointment while robot boxing family story "Real Steel" and Spielberg's own "War Horse" turned in so-so box-office performances. (Spielberg's "The Adventures of Tin-Tin" was not a DreamWorks movie.)

Altogether, the year left DreamWorks in a dire financial state. As a result, since late last year it has been negotiating with Reliance for more money.

Under the new arrangement, DreamWorks will scale back its ambitions from the six pictures per year that it announced in 2009 to a proposed three to five starting next year. The films will continue to be released by Walt Disney Studios.

In addition, DreamWorks now intends to seek co-financiers for all of its movies with large budgets. Already, 20th Century Fox is on board to co-finance "Lincoln" and "Robopocalypse," an adaptation of the bestselling book that is the studio's only movie already scheduled to come out in 2013.

DreamWorks, which has about 80 employees, recently lost its well-regarded head of marketing Christine Birch, who moved to the smaller studio FilmDistrict. The company does not intend to replace her, the knowledgeable person said, and will instead rely more on the small team at Disney that handles marketing for DreamWorks releases.

The studio's lowered ambitions under its new financing marks another bump in its long and difficult path. Founded in 1994 by Spielberg, former Disney President Jeffrey Katzenberg and media mogul David Geffen, DreamWorks SKG was originally intended to be a multimedia giant that could stand alongside Hollywood's established studios.

After failing to realize those dreams, the trio sold DreamWorks SKG to Paramount Pictures in 2005. But after Spielberg and Snider clashed with Paramount executives, they spun out the company in its current, third incarnation. (DreamWorks Animation is a stand-alone, publicly-held company not connected to DreamWorks Studios.)

After initially seeking to raise $1.25 billion, Spielberg and Snider ended up closing their deal for far less after nearly a year of difficult negotiations.

DreamWorks' troubles reflect a larger trend in Hollywood, in which independent movie studios that don't have reliable cash flow from a library of movies or some other business are struggling to survive when they don't release a string of hits. Relativity Media also came close to folding in the last year before finding a financial savior in supermarket magnate Ron Burkle.

The new funding and the amount were first reported by the New York Times and Reuters.

 Gary Ross won't direct Hunger Games follow-up

 Photo: Director Gary Ross won't direct the sequel for "The Hunger Games." Credit: Britta Pedersen/EPA.

Ross won't be boss. Gary Ross, director of the massive hit "The Hunger Games," has bowed out of working on the sequel "Catching Fire." Ross said in a statement that the tight production schedule Lionsgate has set for "Catching Fire" is a deal-breaker. "As a writer and a director, I simply don't have the time I need to write and prep the movie I would have wanted to make because of the fixed and tight production schedule," Ross said. One of the reasons that production is being rushed is that "Hunger Games" star Jennifer Lawrence is also committed to filming a sequel to Fox's "X-Men: First Class." More from the Hollywood Reporter.

I'm a slave 4 you. Britney Spears is inching closer to going to work for Simon Cowell on his singing competition show "The X Factor." Deadline Hollywood said the Spears camp is negotiating a potential payday of nearly $15 million a season. Fox's "The X Factor" had decent but not the great ratings the network was hoping for in its freshman season.

Not playing around. Microsoft's Xbox wants to be more than a device for games. The Wall Street Journal reviews how it stands up to Roku and Apple TV as a television distribution platform.

Alas, I think I'm rapidly reaching the age where trying something new is about as appealing as a trip to the dentist.

Inside the Los Angeles Times: Mary McNamara on ABC's new comedy "...The B---- in Apartment 23." Culver City gets the spotlight in the new romantic comedy "Think Like A Man." When it comes to HBO's redneck comedy "Eastbound and Down" you either get the joke or you are the joke.

-- Joe Flint and others

Follow me on Twitter. We've come too far to turn back now.

1 comment:

Cameron Rand com101 4044 said...

I think britney spears would be a great add on to the tv show The X-factor. Since she has been doing so well these past few years it will be great to see her really become a roll model.