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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Daily Variety ends boffo run. Ad Jingles booste LA as music central. Man from U.N.C.L.E returns? Malone buys into Charter. Better to blow up the White House Twice?

Tom Cruise
Tom Cruise is looking to another old TV show for a movie. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times / March 19, 2013)
After the coffee. Before finding out who took my "Mad Men" screener.

The Skinny: I'm on the fence with Fox's "The Following," which is so grim it is sometimes hard to watch. That said, the cast is terrific. Tuesday's headlines include stories on the end of Daily Variety, a big deal for media mogul John MaloneTom Cruise may have a new movie, and Hollywood's race to blow up the White House. 

Daily Dose: Daily Variety, which published its final print edition Tuesday (see below), not only has informed Hollywood about what's happening in the executive suites and the studio back lot since 1933, but also has served as a training ground for journalists. Reporters from Variety are now covering the entertainment industry for the Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times and USA Today. That's a pretty good track record. 

Boffo run. It is the end of an era for Hollywood as Daily Variety published its last issue Tuesday morning. Daily Variety, which once employed yours truly, is how the industry has started its day for almost 80 years. Although the print issue is folding, the parent company has revamped its website and is overhauling the weekly edition of Variety, which will relaunch next week. A look at Daily Variety's remarkable run and the news outlet's plans for the future from the Los Angeles Times.

Musicians cash in by composing ad jingles
Musician Casey Gibson, 25, has been paid to write jingles for Purina dog food and Columbia Sportswear commercials. Above, Gibson at boutique commercial composition company Mophonics, where he started as an intern and now is called an “artist in residence.” (Christina House, For The Times / December 13, 2012)

Music to my ears. Commercial-music licensing is a booming business, as advertisers, filmmakers, TV producers and others use pop songs to gloss their products.

Demand for ad jingles turns L.A. songwriters into music factories.


Recent ad spots include Texas blues star Gary Clark Jr.'s soulful number "Next Door Neighbor Blues" as the soundtrack to a recent JCPenney swimwear ad, British folk singer Jake Bugg's "Lightning Bolt" selling Gatorade, and Seattle's breakout hip-hop team Macklemore and Ryan Lewis' "Can't Hold Us" hawking Microsoft Corp.
But licensing pop songs can be quite costly. So an increasing number of ad agencies are looking for original compositions for their commercials.
That has meant songwriting jobs for Los Angeles musicians and composers who are writing jingles while waiting for fate to turn them into rock stars.
"It used to be that you got called a sellout. But times have changed," said Casey Gibson, a musician who has been paid to write jingles for Purina dog food andColumbia Sportswear commercials. "I'm actually proud of the fact that I'm able to make a living being a creative person."
At 25, Gibson has played keyboards in the alt-rock Filligar since high school. The band opened recently for Counting Crows, has finished a new album, and has recently signed with Red Light Management and the Windish Agency, two of rock music's top management and booking agencies, respectively.
But when Filligar goes on tour, Gibson brings a mobile recording setup with him so he can write and submit new material for commercials from the road. It's better part-time work than busing tables or tending bar. Besides, there is a long-standing tradition of jingle writers crossing over into mainstream music — and successful musicians writing jingles too.
Grammy-winning songwriter Barry Manilow started his career writing music for State Farm Insurance and McDonald's ads, among many others. (State Farm's anthem "Like a good neighbor…" was his, as was McDonald's "You deserve a break today …") In the 1970s, already well into his career,Randy Newman helped write Dr. Pepper's "Be a Pepper" jingle.
More recently, the sport shoe company Converse has engaged artists Best Coast, André 3000 and others to write original, sponsored songs for the brand.
Gibson works for the boutique commercial composition company Mophonics, where he started as an intern and now is called an "artist in residence." It's a small music factory in a boxy Venice building housing four studios stocked with instruments and recording gear.
Mophonics executive producer Michael Frick and creative director Stephan Altman started the company in 2002. They soon saw that commercial licensing was crowded with labels and bands looking to make some money. So, rather than pitching existing material, they determined Mophonics would offer tailored original compositions at a quick pace.
Now, Mophonics employs four composers in-house and at least 20 freelancers working from home studios. The company is responsible for scoring hundreds of television and Web ads by major companies such as Apple, Mitsubishi and Bacardi.
The company makes as much as $180,000 for single songs. Those that receive repeat licensing, much as a hit song would, return more than $500,000.
Creative assignments vary drastically, Frick said, but usually include a video clip of the commercial and a text brief, broadly describing the client's wishes.
One recent brief sent to Gibson said: "Think Williamsburg indie rock. Start simple, build organically. Look for nice scoring moments that you can accentuate and take advantage of within the track." Gibson recorded a synthesized marimba over a building drum beat and arcing guitar chords, bass, tambourine and soft vocal melodies.
Though exceptions come through, most direction is typically the same, said Charlie Wadhams, a Los Angeles musician who supports himself primarily as a freelance commercial composer. The emails he receives are comically generic, he says.
"If it's a 30-second commercial there are certain things that they pretty much always want: In the first 20 seconds of the commercial they want the energy to build, and then the last 10 seconds will be the big climax. And usually they'll use words like 'epic,'" Wadhams said.
Otherwise, it's a matter of interpreting the company's preferences from the unfinished commercial video clip, past ads and emails from ad agencies, Wadhams said.

He's back. John Malone's Liberty Media has struck a deal to acquire 27% of cable operator Charter Communications for $2.62 billion. As part of the purchase, Liberty will get four seats on Charter's board. With 4.2 million subscribers, Charter is one of the biggest pay-TV distirbutors in the country but is dwarfed by Comcast, DirecTV, Dish and Time Warner Cable. For Malone, the deal marks the first time he'll have a stake in a cable operator here since he sold his own company in the 1990s. More on the pact from the Wall Street Journal.

Jaap Buitendijk/Paramount Pictures
Brad Pitt, center, in "World War Z," directed by Marc Forster.

It's a long road or a risk for films that move at a Zombie's pace. Every time I think I procrastinate too much I look at the movie industry and feel better about myself. It's not unusual for a film to take years or even a decade to go from an idea to a finished piece of work. The latest example is "World War Z," a movie about zombies that was initially developed seven years ago. Fortunately for Paramount, the studio behind the Brad Pitt movie, zombies have since become very hot. The New York Times on why it takes some movies a long time to get off the ground.

Not so fast. Those anticipating buying stock in MGM may have to wait a little longer. While there has been lots of speculation that the studio behind “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” and the James Bond movie “Skyfall” is gearing up for an initial public offering, Variety says "not so fast." Instead, the company may opt for a private placement to raise about $500 million. 

Maybe next he'll star in a "Mannix" reboot. Tom Cruise is again looking to a 1960s TV series to jump start his career. According to Deadline Hollywood, Cruise is in talks to star in director Guy Ritchie's version of "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." Cruise, of course, had a hit franchise with "Mission Impossible." Below is from Dateline Hollywood:
Warner Bros may have finally found its The Man From U.N.C.L.E. I’m hearing that Tom Cruise is in early talks to star in the film that will be directed by Sherlock Holmes helmer Guy Ritchie. The original TV series ran from 1964-68, with Robert Vaughan and David McCallum playing Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin, two agents of the United Network Command for Law Enforcement. With gadgets and their wits and charm, they fought the evil forces of Thrush. Warner Bros has long been high on the project, especially when the studio had Steven Soderbergh ready to direct George Clooney in the lead. The actor dropped out because he needed surgery on his neck and back, and he wasn’t up for a physical role. After Soderbergh departed, the studio turned the project over to Ritchie and his producing partner Lionel Wigram.
If this happens, it would give Cruise another shot at a franchise. He already has Mission: Impossible, which has another installment being developed by Christopher McQuarrie to direct, and I’m told that he will reprise the Jack Reacher role from Lee Child’s books, after the $60 million-budget Jack Reacher grossed more than $215 million worldwide for Paramount and Skydance. Warner Bros began quiet talks with Cruise after he completed All You Need Is Kill with director Doug Liman, which must have turned out pretty strong. Cruise next stars in the Joseph Kosinski-directed Oblivion for Universal Pictures, Cruise’s first futuristic sci-fi film since Minority Report. The film bows April 19. He’s repped by CAA.

White House Movies
Channing Tatum in "White House Down." (Reiner Bajo / Columbia Pictures / March 19, 2013)

Inside the Los Angeles Times:  Hollywood loves to blow things up and now two new movies have the White House in its sights! To really see how popular HBO's "Girls" is you need to look at all the numbers. Santa Monica-based ad agency Rubin Postaer & Associates lost a big chunk of its Honda account. 

Follow me on Twitter. I tweet. You decide. @JBFlint.

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