Monthly Archives: October 2017

What is more entertaining than science?

Beneath a sea of fake stars in a theater in Griffith Park, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Ann Druyan and Seth MacFarlane premiered the first episode of their new series “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey” on Tuesday night.

The show is billed as a continuation of Carl Sagan’s beloved mini-series “Cosmos: A Personal Journey.” That award-winning show first aired 34 years ago, and has since been seen 750 million times. Pretty amazing for a show about science.

This time around it is Tyson, astrophysicist and director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York City, who guides viewers on a journey through the Cosmos–what Sagan once defined as “all that is or ever was or ever will be.” The new series will premiere on several TV channels on Sunday.

Tyson’s journey also begins with a ship of the imagination, unfettered by normal constraints of time and space. But while Sagan’s ship looked like a fluffy dandelion, Tyson’s ship is slim, and sleek–a hard, shiny, metallic seed. And though Sagan took us to the edge of the universe, Tyson takes us one step beyond — suggesting our universe may be just one small bubble in a multi-verse. Universes upon universes.

“Feeling small?” he says.

After the screening the creators of the series got on stage for a question and answer session that was streamed live across the Internet.

Ann Druyan, who was married to Sagan and who co-wrote and co-produced the first “Cosmos,” spoke about the intent of that original series.

“Carl always said we weren’t trying to reach the reader of the New York Review of Books,” she said. “We were trying to reach everyone. This knowledge is our birthright.”

Seth MacFarlane, creator of “Family Guy,” and the man responsible for bringing the “Cosmos” project to Fox, interjected “You were trying to reach the Kardashians.”

But don’t get hung up on that flipness. MacFarlane was visibly thrilled to be sharing a stage with Tyson and Druyan. When Tyson started to talk about how the earliest evidence of life on Earth might be found in fossils on the moon, MacFarlane leaned forward in his chair and said “We’re with you. Keep going!”

Druyan noted that she and a producing partner had been trying to get this updated “Cosmos” made for years, but it wasn’t until MacFarlane brought the Fox network onboard that it all finally started to happen. “This man truly is a genius,” she said.

For his part, MacFarlane applauded the P.T. Barnum element of Sagan’s “Cosmos.” “One of my favorite quotes from Carl is, ‘I want this to be interesting to people who have no interest in science,'” he said. “For 1980 it was a really visually diverse array of images.”

The entertainment industry poured $ 47 billion into L.A.

Robert Kleinhenz, chief economist with the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp., recently spoke with The Times about a new report on the entertainment industry’s effect on the L.A. County economy.

What was the purpose of the study?

We know that the entertainment industry looms large on the world stage and that L.A. is the entertainment capital of the world. We said, ‘Okay, how big is this industry?’ This study was an effort to evaluate the size of the entertainment industry and to measure its impact on the L.A. economy in terms of jobs, income and taxes.

So what did you conclude?

What we found is that despite the loss of business to places around the world, the entertainment industry in L.A. County remains a focal point for the industry around the world, and is also a significant contributor to the local economy. It’s an industry that accounts for not just 162,000 wage and salary jobs, but another 85,000 jobs for freelancers and independent contractors. Taking into account the ripple effect the industry has on other jobs (caterers, florists and so on), the industry supported 586,000 jobs and had an annual output of $47 billion in 2011. That’s equivalent to 8.4% of the county’s annual economic output.

Where does entertainment rank in size compared to other big sectors such as healthcare and trade?

The entertainment industry is the fifth largest sector based on employment (behind health services, business administration services, hospitality and real estate). However, its impact on the local economy is much greater because the films, television programming, and music that are produced here in L.A. are viewed by people throughout the country and the entire world. They generate entertainment-related revenue streams from around the world that supports spending and jobs that otherwise would not exist locally.

What comprises the entertainment sector?

By far the largest category is motion picture and video-related industries. That is followed by the sound industry, radio, television and cable sectors, live entertainment, as well as agents, managers and independent artists.

So how has the entertainment sector fared over the last decade?

If you look at the industry compared to 2001, the number of jobs has increased. Total employment was 16.9% higher in 2011 than in 2001 as the media sector has expanded its offerings and produced more content for existing and new distribution channels, such as mobile and the Internet.

But, as you note in the study, the film and television sector lost more than 16,100 jobs since its peak in 2004. What accounts for that?

Among the reasons are new technology, the recession, which led to a decline in jobs in virtually every sector of the economy, piracy and runaway production.

How much of a challenge is the migration of work to other states and countries?

The local industry has seen a declining share of the business over the last several years at the same time we’ve seen gains elsewhere in the country. For example, in 2005, 82% of all new prime-time TV pilots were shot in L.A. County. By 2011, that had fallen to 51%. We still have quite a bit of downstream support and infrastructure here in L.A. that continues to make it an ideal place to shoot, but we’ve also seen prop houses, sound stages and other support services lured away to other states, so we have to be concerned about that development.

Has California’s film tax credit made much difference?

A separate study that the LAEDC did found that for every dollar in tax credit, the state and local government gets at least $1.06 back (in intial economic impact), so there does seem to be a net positive benefit to the state and local government.

The Legislative Analyst’s Office said your analysis exaggerated the benefits. What’s your response to that?

We used fairly conservative assumptions and the results of our study were very similar to those of another study by the Milken Institute, which also showed there was a net positive benefit. It keeps employment here in California.

DMG Entertainment will go public on Shenzhen Stock Exchange

DMG Entertainment, the Beijing-based company that co-produced Hollywood films including “Iron Man 3” and “Transcendence,” is in the process of going public on the Shenzhen Stock Exchange.

The move will see DMG enter the exchange through a reverse takeover with meat-processing company Sichuan Gaojin Foods. The deal still needs regulatory approval.

According to DMG and Sichuan Gaojin, the deal values DMG at $970 million. That’s three times the value of Gaojin at the end of 2013. After the transaction, the company’s largest shareholder will be DMG Chairman Peter Xiao Wenge.

Documents filed by Sichuan Gaojin with the Shenzhen Exchange said DMG’s revenue grew from about $181 million in 2011 to $270 million in 2012 and $271 million in 2013. Film and television revenue saw a large jump between 2012 and 2013, rising from $9.3 million to $48.2 million.

“Iron Man 3,” released in 2013, grossed $121 million at the mainland box office.

Profit at DMG rose to $45.9 million in 2013, up from $25.3 million in 2011, Sichuan Gaojin’s documentation indicated.

DMG began as an advertising and TV commercial production firm but has also invested in domestic film and TV production and distribution and has interests in music and other sectors. Shares of Sichuan Gaojin, which had been suspended for months, resumed trading April 8 and have nearly doubled in the last two and a half weeks.

Until recently, China had enacted a moratorium on initial public offerings, and a backlog of listings is now awaiting approval. Among the entertainment-related companies that recently announced plans for IPOs are Wanda Cinema Line, China’s biggest movie theater chain, which plans to raise $321 million, and Shanghai Film Corp., a film producer, distributor and exhibitor that wants to raise $155 million.

Media firms remain a highly regulated, largely government-controlled sector in China, and a reverse takeover could allow DMG — which has several non-Chinese principals — to go public without drawing too much attention to itself. Chinese-language media carried reports of the reverse takeover earlier this month, but DMG had not made a statement until this week, when Variety first reported the news.

A number of Chinese companies — including restaurant chains, fireworks manufacturers, dairy firms and video game makers — have shown interest this year in acquiring media, TV and film production companies.

Restaurant chain Beijing Xiangeqing said in March that it would acquire 51% of China Film & Television Production Co. and 51% of Di Nu Film & Television. The same month, Panda Fireworks Group announced that it would spend $91 million to acquire Dongyang Huahai Shidai Pictures Media.

Brad Pitt’s Pilm Company

Plan B Entertainment, has signed a production deal with New Regency and RatPac Entertainment — an arrangement that precipitates his company’s departure from Paramount Pictures at the end of the year.

The pact takes one of Hollywood’s hottest and best-known production banners away from the Viacom Inc.-owned studio and aligns it with crosstown rival 20th Century Fox.

Plan B’s first-look deal with Paramount expires Dec. 31. The production company has been based at the studio since 2005.

New Regency and RatPac will finance future projects from Plan B as part of a multi-year, overall deal, New Regency said in a statement Tuesday night. The company is based on the 20th Century Fox lot and has a long-term distribution arrangement with the studio.

RatPac, the film finance vehicle of filmmaker Brett Ratner and Australian businessman James Packer, will have the opportunity to co-finance projects from Plan B that are in development at New Regency.

New Regency already has a relationship with Pitt and his company, having co-financed and co-produced Plan B’s recent success, “12 Years a Slave.” The companies also are working on “True Story,” a crime drama that stars Jonah Hill and James Franco. That project, to be released by 20th Century Fox, recently wrapped production.

New Regency Chief Executive Brad Weston praised Plan B in an interview with The Times.

“We had a great experience with Plan B on ‘Twelve Years a Slave’ and next year’s ‘True Story’ and we really like each other,” said Weston, also New Regency’s president. “It was a really organic outgrowth of a great relationship.”

Plan B said in a statement that the arrangement with New Regency and RatPac is a “perfect fit.” New Regency was founded by billionaire producer Arnon Milchan, who serves as its chairman.

At Paramount, Pitt’s company made this past summer’s zombie thriller, “World War Z,” which grossed $540 million worldwide, according to Box Office Mojo. The expensive Marc Forster-directed movie, which starred Pitt, suffered from production issues, and required reshoots.

The A-list star will continue to have a relationship with Paramount: The studio is moving forward with Pitt’s “World War Z” sequel, which “The Impossible” director Juan Antonio Bayona would direct.

Paramount declined to comment.

Pitt formed Plan B in 2002 with then-wife Jennifer Aniston. He has long had a close relationship with Brad Grey, the chairman and chief executive of Paramount.

“World War Z” is by far the highest-profile movie made by Plan B that Paramount released.

Plan B produced the comedy “Year of the Dog” and the thriller “A Mighty Heart” for Paramount’s specialty film division Paramount Vantage. Both movies came out in 2007, with “Year of the Dog” taking in $1.6 million worldwide and “A Mighty Heart” topping out at $18.9 million.

However, Plan B found major success at other studios. Among the successes that Paramount missed out on were “Kick-Ass,” which was released in 2010 by Lions Gate Entertainment and grossed $96 million worldwide; the prestige picture “The Tree of Life,” which was directed by Terrence Malick and released by Fox Searchlight Pictures; and “12 Years a Slave,” an Oscar contender that also was distributed by Fox Searchlight.

“12 Years a Slave” has been a source of friction between Paramount and Plan B. The drama has been a critical and commercial hit, grossing more than $35 million worldwide, but Paramount didn’t get an opportunity to distribute it, according to a studio source with knowledge of the matter who was not authorized to comment publicly.

Paramount believes, according to this person, that Plan B violated its deal with the studio by not offering it a chance to distribute the picture, which was released in October.

New Regency declined to comment about the “12 Years a Slave” matter. Plan B did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

It has been a busy few days for Paramount, which has lost one top-tier producer, but gained another. On Dec. 6, the studio announced it had inked a first-look deal with producer Jerry Bruckheimer.

As part of that three-year pact, Bruckheimer will produce “Top Gun 2” and a “Beverly Hills Cop” picture for the studio.

Plan B’s deal with New Regency and RatPac is the last company’s second high-profile film financing accord in recent months.

In September, Warner Bros. Pictures struck a financing deal with RatPac-Dune Entertainment LLC, a new entity formed by Dune Entertainnment’s Steven Mnuchin and RatPac.

Chief talks NBC Entertainment Leno, NFL and Peter Pan

NBC doesn’t want to say goodbye to “Tonight Show” host Jay Leno just yet.

“I’m very much hoping we will enter into a new relationship with him after ‘The Tonight Show,’ ” said NBC Entertainment Chairman Bob Greenblatt at the semiannual Television Critics Assn. press tour in Pasadena on Sunday.

Leno, who ends his run as “Tonight Show” host on Feb. 6 (with Billy Crystal as his final guest), has kept mum on his future plans, including whether he will seek another TV hosting gig. Greenblatt said he’d like to have Leno host specials for NBC down the road.

Jimmy Fallon, host of NBC’s “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” will debut as host of “The Tonight Show” on Feb. 17, in the midst of its coverage of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. The network hopes that the bigger audiences for the Games will mean increased sampling for Fallon.

Greenblatt also said the network has an appetite for more football. The National Football League is soliciting offers for a potential Thursday night package of games. Greenblatt declined to comment on whether NBC, which is home to Sunday night football, had made an offer but said “we’d love to have more NFL games,” and “Thursday night games might be really interesting to us.”

One reason Thursday football would appeal to NBC is that its comedies on that night have been struggling. The network has programmed sitcoms on Thursday for decades but given its recent challenges, Greenblatt didn’t rule out going in a different direction next season. Expensive and heavily promoted new comedies starring Michael J. Fox and Sean Hayes have failed to click with viewers, much to the frustration of the network.

“We’re really unhappy that we can’t find an audience for them,” said Greenblatt, adding that this spring the network will “have to get in the scheduling room and make some hard decisions.”

An easy decision for NBC to make was to greenlight another live musical after the surprising success of “The Sound of Music Live” last month. Greenblatt said NBC would take another crack with “Peter Pan” in December. Producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, who made “The Sound of Music Live” are also on board for “Peter Pan.”

NBC also said it had signed “Parks and Recreation” star Amy Poehler to a production deal and is developing a sitcom she will produce starring Natasha Lyonne (“Orange is the New Black”) as a woman who works in a senior care facility.

Networks are typically obsessed with shows about younger people, but NBC executives said this comedy will give it a chance to broaden its casting and appeal to older viewers as well.

“I’d like to see them represented,” Greenblatt said.

Other new shows in development include “State of Affairs” starring former “Grey’s Anatomy” star Katherine Heigl as a CIA liaison for the White House. The network also has a limited series in the works inspired by Frank L. Baum’s books called “Emerald City.”

Coming off a strong fall in which its average prime time audience was up 10%, Greenblatt said NBC is unlikely to change the way it develops new shows. Responding to a question regarding Fox’s plans to abandon so-called pilot season — the three month ritual in which networks frantically order scripts, hire actors and shoot trial episodes — Greenblatt said he is happy with the current model.

Entertaining tips

With the holiday season gearing up, more than a few of us will be hosting a festive dinner party, buffet or potluck. As pleasant as any holiday event may be, it seems like the moment someone rings the dinner bell, an otherwise civil gathering can turn into a stampede as guests mob the food table.

Much as I like to keep my buffets casual and free-form, there are a few rules I always follow to keep the meal organized. Call it a little “buffet psychology.” Here are some tips:

1. Organize the food layout, with a definite beginning and ending. Set the plates, napkins and silverware/plasticware at one end of the table near the food, so guests know where to line up. This will keep the guests from rushing the food like an NFL defensive line.

2. Consider plate size. Guests tend to fill up whatever size plate they have, be it small or large. Go with a smaller plate (8 to 9 inches in diameter) so guests don’t overfill and waste food. They can always go back for seconds.

3. Organize all of the less-expensive/greater-quantity foods at the “beginning” of the buffet, like salads and starches (rolls, rice, potatoes, etc). Save the big ticket and expensive items for the very end of the buffet (turkey, roast, fish) so guests have less room on their plates and are less likely to overfill.

Los Angeles County entertainment jobs down 7% from 2007

The entertainment industry in Los Angeles County has lost more than 9,000 jobs since 2007.

The data comes from a report by Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. that measures the scope of California’s entire “creative economy,” which includes industries such as architecture, digital media and fashion along with entertainment.

Creative industries contributed $273 billion to the California economy, accounting for nearly 8% of the gross state product in 2012.

In Los Angeles County, entertainment alone accounted for 132,900 jobs in 2012, down nearly 6.6% over the previous five years.

Within the industry, movie and video production — which accounts for the bulk of entertainment employment — posted the biggest decline, down by 7,800 jobs, or 7.2%, since 2007.

Some of the reduction is because of the big recession during the time period, along with the impact of other states offering tax breaks to film companies.

But three areas represented bright spots in the same period. Post-production services added 530 positions, while radio stations grew by 350 jobs and television broadcasting boasted an added 1,700 jobs.

However, cable broadcasting, motion picture distribution and sound recording all fell over the five-year window.

The report was more upbeat about the next few years. Direct employment by the entertainment industry in the county is expected to grow by about 3% through 2017.

Legendary bought TV production company Asylum Entertainment

Legendary Entertainment is expanding its television production repertoire by acquiring Asylum Entertainment, the firm behind the biographical miniseries “The Kennedys.”

Legendary, the entertainment company controlled by film producer and financier Thomas Tull, announced Monday it had completed a deal to buy 100% of Asylum Entertainment, a 10-year-old production firm.

Financial details of the transaction were not disclosed.

Asylum specializes in unscripted and scripted fare. The 2011 miniseries “The Kennedys” featured Greg Kinnear, Barry Pepper, Tom Wilkinson and Katie Holmes. Originally produced for the History Channel, the network abandoned the project after complaints from Kennedy family members.

The independent Reelz Channel ultimately broadcast the series, which scored 10 Emmy nominations.

Asylum’s other credits include the sports documentary series “30 for 30” for ESPN and the 2013 movie “Ring of Fire” for Lifetime Entertainment with Jewel playing June Carter Cash.  Asylum is producing “Happy Valley” for A&E, which looks at how the sexual abuse scandal involving assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky seared the cultural fabric of Penn State University.

Legendary has been raising its profile in sports-themed content, producing this year’s biographical feature film on Jackie Robinson, “42.”

Asylum Entertainment’s founders, Chief Executive Steve Michaels and Chief Creative Officer Jonathan Koch, plan to stay on to run Asylum as a somewhat separate entity.  They will report to Bruce Rosenblum, the former Warner Bros. television chief who became president of Legendary’s television and digital media businesses last summer.

“This is an incredible deal that allows Asylum to scale our existing business beyond what we could have imagined,” Michaels and Koch said in a statement. “In terms of our programming philosophies and the audiences we’re trying to build and serve, Legendary is a perfect match.”