ESPN: Still Disney’s Crown Jewel?

On KCRW’s The Business podcast, Kim Masters and Matt Belloni, the editorial director of The Hollywood Reporter, discuss the recent layoffs that occurred at ESPN, which amounted to nearly one hundred names, some of which being prominent commentators, being let go. This obviously left some fans upset; however, this is worth discussing as the cable division has been Disney’s most profitable area for years with Masters and Belloni both saying that ESPN is Disney’s crown jewel. Unfortunately, even though ESPN is still extremely profitable and brings in a huge amount of revenue for the company, they are not unaffected by the current trend of cable cutters. With millions of people either choosing to slim down on their choice of channels or get rid of their cable plans all together, Disney and ESPN were finally forced to act and had to make cuts. Though there has been talks about more cuts coming, both Belloni and Masters believe that the one hundred individuals was ESPN’s attempt to “rip the bandaid off” and that this will be all of the lay offs for some time. The other important consideration is how this could affect Disney’s other divisions like film, which is their third largest after cable and theme parks. Clearly, Disney has a wide range of source of revenue, but hopefully the trend of cable cutters will not continue to a point where it affects a large source of revenue for the company.

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3D Screenings Increase Earnings

It is no secret that many filmmakers and moviegoers see 3D as a gimmick designed to trick customers into paying more; however, whether or not you believe this is why studios push major blockbusters towards 3D, it is not a secret that it absolutely helps boost the earnings for major theaters. In a recent article from The Hollywood Reporter, Ethan Vlessing took a look at the earnings reports from Canada’s Cineplex and found that  one of the major driving forces for the recent boost in earnings were record sales for premium tickets, as well as concession sales. The article continues saying that tentpole movies like Star Wars: Rogue OneThe Lego Batman Movie, and Beauty and the Beast all had a substantial number of 3D sales. Cineplex saw the potential for this money making opportunity several years ago and converted a majority of their chain to where it was 3D capable, which seems to have paid off as it is now a significant driving force for their business. While the major franchise films helped get audiences to the theaters, Cineplex’s earnings reports also showed that individuals weren’t only willing to pay for the up charge for 3D as the company saw a five percent increase in concession sales. So while many might feel that 3D is a gimmick, Cineplex’s success at maintaining customer’s despite increased 3D tickets means that 3D is thriving and likely won’t go anywhere anytime soon.

WGA Strike: Scriptnotes Podcast Votes Yes

While both John August and Craig Mazin, the screenwriters who commentate on the popular podcast Scriptnotes, did say that they would be voting yes during the Writers Guild of America strike authorization process, they both point out that it isn’t that straight forward and that this doesn’t necessarily mean that they wish for the WGA to go on strike. In a special mini episode of their podcast, the two screenwriters focused on many of the unknowns for their listeners that are surrounding the WGA renegotiation talks, especially with the deadline quickly approaching. While both state that they are voting yes and recommend that other members of the WGA vote yes, it is with reluctance. Mazin talks on this reluctance stating that he feels that the WGA is somewhat undermining both their bargaining position with the strike authorization against studios, as well as the democratic system of the WGA. Mazin has a solid argument to support this as he claims that the WGA pushes for its members to vote yes and says that if they don’t they won’t have the bargaining power to threaten the WGA with, but he goes on to say that not only does this make many in the WGA feel that they can’t give a no vote, but it also sets up the studios with the expectation that this is going to happen; therefore, they are prepared and will not be flustered during negotiations when the WGA threatens to walk out. His last major point in regards to the strike authorization is that even though the WGA tells its members that a yes vote is just for bargaining power and that they will not go on strike, everytime they have received the majority yes vote from its membership they have gone on strike since the 1970s. The hosts of the podcast bring forth a lot of good information that many listeners likely did not know, but also paint a picture where it seems that a WGA strike is inevitable. Thankfully, one of the last comments of the podcast address the fact that it would be extremely difficult for the current deal to just disappear when it expires, which means that no one’s life in the WGA  will drastically change until a new deal is put in place.

WGA Strike Imminent?

The Hollywood Reporter recently posted an article on the rapidly approaching deadline for a deal between the Writers Guild of American and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. Talks apparently broke down between the two groups on Monday yet again and many believed talks would resume again the next day; however, the groups put out statements saying that they would not meet again to discuss a renegotiation until the following Tuesday, which is one week away from the expiration of the current contract. Another issue that comes with the week long delay in negotiations is that by next Tuesday the WGA will have likely obtained the strike authorization that it requires from its members and will let the union walk out once the contract that they have yet to renegotiate expires. The other major point from The Hollywood Reporter article is the staggering gap between the two parties in regard to the contract they seek. The WGA is seeking a $535 million package, while The Hollywood Reporter estimates that they AMPTP is attempting to make a $180 million deal. This means that the two groups are roughly $350 million dollars apart in their current talks and makes the quickly approaching deadline and former failed attempts to renegotiate the contract  seem to suggest that a WGA walk out is imminent.

Struggles at Paramount

On KCRW’s The Business podcast, Kim Masters talks with Matt Belloni, the editorial director of The Hollywood Reporter, about the struggles that Paramount’s new CEO Jim Gianopulos faces. After the ousting of the previous leadership, Gianopulos is stepping into an interesting situation with one of his first tasks being the quelling of the backlash against their recent blockbuster film Ghost in the Shell, starring Scarlett Johansen. The film has been criticized for casting an white actor in a role that was previously depicted as Japanese in the original source material; moreover, Paramount has acknowledged that this backlash has hurt both the critics reviews, as well as its box office performance, which is unfortunate as Masters points out that the film cost over $100 million to make. This Ghost in the Shell backlash is just one of the issues that Gianopulos is facing with other important issues like the financing of future films by Chinese companies being in jeopardy that could amount to nearly a billion dollars. Belloni touches on this issue claiming that the uncertainty of Paramount’s leadership have made some of these companies second guess their investments and Gianopulous will have a difficult time dealing with this uncertainty because of Ghost in the Shell and a lack of major franchises going forward.

Ghosts in the Shell: Hollywood Whitewashing

Hollywood whitewashing is by no means a new thing, just look back to the 1956 film The Conquerer, which stars John Wayne the star known for his westerns as Genghis Khan, and it even extends farther back in time from there to the earliest days of film; however, Hollywood whitewashing has received a lot of negative press over the last few years, between the oscars-so-white movement and recent films like Ghost in the Shell, which is led by Scarlett Johansen, despite the source material’s main character being Japanese. Indiewire reported that the film opened to just $19 million over its opening weekend, which was less than half of Dreamworks, The Boss Baby. Paramount executive Kyle Davies stepped forward after these results and stated that the casting of Scarlett Johansen in this role impacted the audiences reception and impacted the reviews for the film; moreover, he said, “you’re always trying to thread the needle between honoring the source material and making a movie for a mass audience.” This statement shows that studios continue to whitewash films as they cannot just make a film for those who love the source material for Ghost in the Shell, but need to appeal to a wider audience so they throw in an actor like Scarlett Johansen, who will have major box office draw; however, as this weekend shows, this isn’t always enough and that the increasing backlash against whitewashing films could lead to changes in how these films are cast in the future.

Beauty and the Beast: The Challenges of Adapting a Classic

On The Business, Kim Masters sits down to talk with the Bill Condon, director of the 2017 remake of the classic Disney film Beauty and the Beast. One of the many interesting things that Masters and Condon discuss through the thirty minute podcast is how much freedom Disney gave to Condon during the production. Masters questions Condon about whether the “giant [Disney] machine” pressured him to keep the film within a certain form or the characters portrayed in a certain way due to Disney’s need to reproduce them for theme parks and merchandising. Surprisingly, Condon is adamant throughout the interview that Disney was very open to his ideas and did not pressure him throughout the entire production, even in the controversial depiction of Disney’s first gay character; moreover, Condon states that in some ways he was even more protective of the film staying true to the original in many ways as he was apart of the generation that was able to see it in theaters. One thing that Condon made clear throughout the interview was that even though he felt this connection to the animated film, he believed that as few things should be CG as possible, so that they could further differentiate themselves from the original animated film and keep this film feeling more grounded in reality. Not surprisingly, this led to some huge sets being constructed with Condon claiming some could take up to five minutes to walk across. This interview felt similar to Masters interview of the Zootopia directors a few weeks ago as both films were given tremendous  financial and creative support by Disney of their filmmakers and the rewards that these relationships between studio and filmmaker can have as Zootopia grossed over $1 billion and Beauty and the Beast grossed over $175 million in its opening weekend.