Earlier today Focus Features announced that shooting has begun on Noah Baumbach‘s Greenberg, a Los Angeles-based relationship costarring Ben Stiller and a Joe Swanberg mumblecore hyphenate (actress-screenwriter-director) named Greta Gerwig. Gerwig is the second Swanberg blonde to penetrate mainstream Hollywood ranks following Alexander The Last‘s Jess Weixler. Are there others?
The wrinkle is that the Focus release refers to “an untitled film” instead of Greenberg, which most likely means (a) there’s some kind of title-rights issue going on or (b) somebody at Focus is afraid that Greenberg sounds too ethnic and has persuaded the top creatives (Baumbach, producer Scott Rudin , Baumbach’s wife-collaborator-costar Jennifer Jason Leigh) to give the title another think-through. Well…what else could it be?
If it’s an ethnic concern (and I say “if”) I can half-see the point. You don’t want to go too Jewish or too black or too ethnic-anything when it comes to a movie title that’s looking to rope in the mall crowd.
Would My Big Fat Greek Wedding have been as big a hit if it had been called The Coarse Wedding of Toula Portokalos? Instead of going with Bananas director-star Woody Allen could have called his 1971 comedy Mellish, after the film’s lead character Fielding Mellish — but would it have sold as many tickets? And the 1969 film adaptation of Phillip Roth‘s Goodbye Columbus could have been called Klugman after Richard Benjamin‘s lead character — but c’mon, which is the better title?
Baumbach has authored the original screenplay from a story created by Leigh and himself. It’s basically about a guy named Roger Greenberg (Stiller) housesitting at his brother’s home in Los Angeles, and striking up a relationship with his brother’s assistant Florence (Gerwig), who’s an aspiring singer. Leigh will costar along with Rhys Ifans, Mark Duplass (another mumblecore guy whose last mumblecore film was Humpday), Brie Larson (United States of Tara), and Juno Temple (Atonement).
Tony Clark, chairman and co-founder of the Australian-based visual effects house RSP, has posted a statement on the company’s website explaining how it would have been impossible for his company to have been in any way complicit in the leaking of the Wolverine workprint.
“From the reports we’ve had, the stolen material is a work-in-progress version of the film with many incomplete sections. As we worked on individual sequences within the film, neither RSP or its staff members have ever been in possession of a full-length version, so it would have been impossible for the movie to have been leaked from here.
“It’s common practice for work in progress between us and the production to carry vendor watermarks and for these works-in-progress to be integrated into various edits of the film for screenings which would explain why our name appears.”
There’s an interesting snap judgment in a current Kim Masters/Daily Beast article about studios having shifted into deep rollback mode these days on star salaries. The studios are using the worldwide financial meltdown as an excuse to get tough, but the decisive underlying factor is, as Masters writes, that “the model is collapsing.”
Meaning, I gather, that while a very select few superstars like Will Smith can still be counted upon to open a film (unless it’s a morose stinker like Seven Pounds) and the right star in the right film (say, Robert Downey, Jr. in Iron Man) is a definite box-office accelerant, fewer and fewer actors rank in this regard. It almost seems, in fact, as if the very concept of a movie star may be on the wane. Digital media has levelled the playing field, and the mystique of movie stars has dissipated.
How many of the hot celebrity names of the ’90s and the early part of this century still matter in a box-office sense? Tom Cruise may not be done, but the suits see him as damaged goods; Harrison Ford has been over for a while now. Is Tom Hanks still a bona fide star? In any event, says Masters, the value of respected second-tier stars seems to be sinking like a stone.
“After years of impotent promises to choke off rich deals with talent, the studios are finally making it happen,” she reports. “They’re hammering on star salaries and perks like private jets, too. ‘They’ve wanted to go in this direction for a long time and the global financial crisis has given them the lever to do it,’ says one veteran talent representative. ‘
“Why would anybody pay Julia Roberts $20 million to do Duplicity?” a producer tells Masters. “That won’t happen again.” Indeed, this source says Sony Pictures is ponying up $15 million for Roberts to do Eat, Pray, Love and probably already regrets having committed to pay that much.
“These changes may cheer up ordinary citizens who can’t understand why a star ever got millions to be in a movie in the first place,” she writes, “but the fact that the studios are finally laying down the law also illustrates the strains hey are under as they try to crank out expensive popular entertainment when the model is collapsing.
“Stars in the middle range — famous names but something well short of, say, Will Smith — are facing the toughest battles,” she reports.
“The studios are going out to actors who have been $10 million players and saying, ‘Here’s $5 million. Here’s two and a half,'” she hears from a top agent. “It’s like there are no rules.” If an actor balks at the deal, the studios say they will move to another choice immediately. “They’re not fucking around,” says the talent representative. “They know exactly who that next person is. Sometimes they’ll tell you.”
“On certain movies, they feel like whoever they put in a part is fine. Once they lock down Robert Downey, Jr., on Iron Man 2, everything else is fine. I don’t think they give a shit if it’s Mickey Rourke or Scarlett Johansson.”
I like an idea from Cinemablend‘s Katey Rich about how 20th Century Fox could counteract the possibly negative box-office impact of the Wolverine bootleg, to wit: attach a teaser for James Cameron‘s Avatar on all Wolverine prints, and make certain it doesn’t appear online for at least two weeks after its 5.1.09 opening.
“The word has been that we won’t see a trailer, or even a single scene, from the movie until later this summer when Comic Con gets going,” Rich comments. “But if Fox can somehow pull together a trailer for Avatar and play it before Wolverine, they can recover from the enormous blow of the Wolverine piracy.
“No movie coming out within the next year is shrouded in more secrecy than Avatar , and it’s hard to imagine any other trailer audiences would pay $12 to see. It would be a scramble for them to pull something together that quickly, but if they’re going to salvage this mess, they’ve got to start thinking creatively. If Avatar lives up to the hype, it will be by far the biggest movie Fox has this year. It’s already time for them to start cashing in on it.”
A reasonably well-connected guy with a friend on the 20th Century Fox who’s said to have regular contact with Fox Filmed Entertainment chairman Tom Rothman (and who was questioned yesterday by an investigator regarding the Wolverine piracy) has been told that “within the last few days” — i.e., prior to the Wolverine work print appearing online — “Rupert Murdoch received a package at his New York office that contained a DVD copy of the leaked Wolverine.”
The Fox guy allegedly said that “most people involved are considering the delivery a big ‘eff you’ to Murdoch and Fox.”
I tried checking this with two off-the-lot sources who might have heard something, and with Murdoch’s office and Newscorp. corporate spokesperson. Everyone claimed they hadn’t heard the story and/or had no reason to believe it’s true. The story sounds too much like an urban legend. To me, at least. It’s too colorful and dramatic, like a scene out of a screenplay about the Wolverine work-print thievery, and a little bit like the opening of Zodiac.
You can’t spray a burst of automatic rifle fire at the roof and sides of a subway car, guys. You’ll have several rounds ricocheting all over over the place with an excellent chance of one of them hitting the shooter. Any New York subway-car kidnapper would consider this a no-brainer. There’s still time for The Taking of Pelham 123 director Tony Scott to cut this out of the master cut. It won’t open until June 12th.
The above trailer is new — well, newish — and somewhat different than the one that appeared in mid February.