Update: Mystery Hollywood round-up

May 10th, 2014 by

Back in September 2013, I posted this, an aggregation of all the Mystery Hollywood Twitter handles I could find. The subject came up yesterday — where else, but Twitter — and I know some new Mystery Hwood types have emerged, while alas some appeared to have gone dormant. So here is an updated list.

@MysteryExec
@MysteryVP
@MysteryBritExec
@MysteryCr8tve
@studioexec1
@MysteryPres
@MysteryActress
@MysteryProducer
@MysteryHelmer
@Mystery_LP
@MysterySW
@tempdiaries
@mysteryflmstdnt
@Mystery_Intern
@anonymousexc
@crankyintern
@MysteryMailroom
@DevtHell
@MysteryStarlet
@MysteryTVWrtrAs
@MysteryMailGuy
@MysteryGroupie
@CAAsshole
@MysteryBlond
@MysterySR
@mysterystaffwri
@MystMystFollowr
@MysteryActorGuy
@MysteryAdExec
@MysteryPA
@literarymanager
@mysterygrip
@MysteryScWriter
@MysteryUPM
@MysteryDPDude
@worstdpever
@MysteryVFXSuper
@Mystery_LP
@MysteryMarilynM
@mscriptshadow
@MysteryProdAsst
@MysteryAD1
@TalentAgentUK
@MysteryLadyExec
@MysteryUKFilmSt
@MysteryGameD3v
@MysteryInternLA
@LAJackass
@POedActorWriter

It all started with @MysteryExec. You can read a first-person essay from him here.

If you aren’t following at least some of the Mystery Hwood types, you should. Even though we don’t know their identities, their collective content is often funny and generally insightful into the nature of The Biz.

Please let me know any further additions or deletions to this master Mystery Hwood list.

Mysterious Hollywood round-up

September 3rd, 2013 by

If you are on Twitter and follow my feed (@GoIntoTheStory), you will have seen my weekly #FF Mysterious Hollywood tweets each Friday. It started out with one tweet, then as more mysterious Hwood types emerged, became two, and now sits at three.

This is currently who I have aggregated in the Mysterious Hwood twitterverse:

@MysteryExec
@MysteryVP
@MysteryActress
@MysteryProducer
@MysteryHelmer
@MysterySW
@tempdiaries
@mysteryflmstdnt
@Mystery_Intern
@anonymousexc
@crankyintern
@MysteryMailroom
@DevtHell
@waltercabss
@MysteryStarlet
@studioexec1
@MysteryTVWrtrAs
@MysteryMailGuy
@MysteryGroupie
@CAAsshole
@MysteryBlond
@MysterySR
@mysterystaffwri
@MystMystFollowr

Then there is Mysterious Marshmallow: @StayPuft, who belongs because I believe in promoting diversity and I think we can all agree imaginary marshmallow figures pulled from Ghostbusters have been ignored long enough!

Now I had no idea anybody but myself and a few other Twitter types really cared about my weekly #FF tweets, but lately I have received some twitter flack (“twack”? “flitter”? “flacker”?) due to my ‘sins of ommission’. To wit:

Needless to say, I added @mysterysffwri and @MystMystFollwr to my active lists, although the appearance of the latter has officially moved us into Meta World whereby there is a mystery denizen who is noteworthy for following Mysterious Hwood types.

So what’s my point?

First, I wanted to make folks aware of this particularly entertaining aspect of what transpires daily in the Twittersphere. Are these people actually who they claim to be? Who knows, but that’s half the fun. You can imagine them in their bungalow office on the Universal lot live-tweeting while rolling calls and keeping one eye on the CNBC stock market scroll or in the basement of their parents’ house in Minot, North Dakota sucking down Grain Belt beer while temporarily out of jail on probation for lewd behavior with a yak.

Second, I feel like I need some guidance from Mystery Hollywood types. I can’t follow all of you because I use Twitter largely to track news related to the movie business and screenwriting, so a couple of things:

* Please look at the overall list and let me know if there are any inactive feeds I should remove.

* If there are other Mysterious Hollywood accounts I’ve not included, please give me a heads-up about those.

And then I’m thinking this: What if we rank them, something like they do in sports?

The Mysterious Hollywood Top 25 Poll

The poll could not only be helpful for people trying to figure out who to follow, but also perhaps serve as motivation for the Mysterious Hollywood crowd to be even more entertaining and informative about the business.

I would imagine @MysteryExec lands at the top of the list, but again while I’m happy to promote the entire Mysterious Hollywood crowd, I only officially follow a few for reasons stated above, so maybe a poll would provide a more ‘official’ assessment of the whole MH phenomenon and give us a few surprises on the popularity front.

Or perhaps the poll is just a shitty idea.

Anyhow a Hat Tip to all of you Mysterious Hwood types. You entertain us 140 characters at a time.

Phew, after all that typing, I need a drink. Let’s see, where’s that bottle of Chivas 18…

UPDATE: @BittrScrptReadr informs me that @DevtHell has been inactive for awhile. So unless I hear otherwise, I will hereby scrub him/her from the list.

Polone: “Why Everyone in Hollywood Is Paying More for a Manager”

July 11th, 2012 by

Agent turned manager-producer Gavin Polone has a must-read weekly series with Vulture. Today’s article provides excellent insight into what is going on in Hollywood in terms of agencies and managers. Here’s an excerpt:

When I started as an agent in 1987, talent managers were most commonly thought of as appendages of musicians and a minority of actors. If someone said “manager” to me back then, I would have thought of Colonel Tom Parker, who guided the career of Elvis Presley for a reported commission of 25 percent (most managers today, like agents, take 10 percent). The majority of actors and practically all writers, directors, and producers only had agents, who not only found jobs and set up projects on behalf of their clients, but also were hand-holders and career strategists. Agents have a franchise, established by state law, which says that they can procure employment and negotiate deals, while talent managers, who are unregulated and solely provide career guidance, are technically prohibited from those actions.

Now it seems that almost all actors and a high percentage of writers, directors, and producers have managers, and those who don’t are thinking about getting one. The reason for this change can be found in the news reports written about talent agencies these days, most of which involve a cycle of mergers between agencies and the subsequent firings of suddenly superfluous agents. And the few remaining agencies are financially restructuring and making high-profile investments in side businesses, as ICM did in buying out a majority of their former owners and changing their name to ICMPartners, and CAA and WME did when they sold part of themselves to, respectively, private equity funds Texas Pacific Group and Silver Lake Partners. Whenever I read one of these stories, my first thought is, Great for the talent managers — because all of this distraction and job cutting only means that agents don’t have the time nor interest to be as attentive as they once were and that gap in the process of representation still needs to be filled by someone.

As far as aspiring screenwriters are concerned, managers have become an almost indispensable part of the process of breaking in and getting established:

* There are a lot more managers nowadays compared to agents.

* Managers are much more open to receiving unsolicited inquiries.

* Managers are more committed to working with writers to develop material, shape pitches, etc.

* Because managers get commission plus producing fees, they can be more motivated to seek out fresh talent and develop them over time.

Obviously these are all generalizations, each agent is different, just like each manager is different. But as Polone points out, the changes that are occurring in Hollywood with agencies, basically now only two-and-a-half major ones left, are making managers that much more important in a writer’s career.

For the rest of the article, go here. And seriously, you should read Polone’s column every week.

What was Hollywood’s first spec script?

February 11th, 2012 by

In 1967, William Goldman wrote and sold Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid for a reported $400,000. While we may consider it the first spec script of the contemporary era, it is not Hollywood’s first.

The 1942 movie Woman of the Year is often cited as the first spec script, but not if you believe Katherine Hepburn who claims she passed along an outline written by Garson Kanin to MGM who bought it for $250,000 — half for the story rights, half for Hepburn to appear in the movie.

No, as best I can tell, the very first spec script to sell in Hollywood was The Power and the Glory by Preston Sturgess. Per Wikipedia:

He also sold his original screenplay for The Power and the Glory (1933) to Fox, where it was filmed as a vehicle for Spencer Tracy. The film told the story of a self-involved financier via a series of flashbacks and flashforwards, and was an acknowledged source of inspiration for the screenwriters of Citizen Kane. Fox producer Jesse Lasky paid Sturges $17,500 plus a percentage of the profits, a then-unprecedented deal for a screenwriter, which instantly elevated Sturges’ reputation in Hollywood – although the lucrative deal irritated as many as it impressed. Sturges later recalled, “The film made a lot of enemies. Writers at that time worked in teams, like piano movers. And my first solo script was considered a distinct menace to the profession.”

This historical footnote is supported by Sturges’ son Sandy who created this overview of his father’s life and career. Under the heading 1933, he writes this:

  • Sells original screenplay, The Power and the Glory, to Fox.
  • Writes original screenplay, The Great McGinty. No takers.
  • So in fact, Sturges not only wrote and sold the first spec script in Hollywood, he was also wrote the first spec script not to sell.

    Well, not immediately. In 1939, he sold The Great McGinty to Paramount for $1 [later bumped up to $10 for legal reasons] to allow him to direct the movie.

    To acknowledge Sturges’ role in the history of the spec script in Hollywood, here is a clip from the movie The Power and the Glory. Pay special attention at the :30 mark in the credits where it reads “Original Screenplay by Preston Sturges”.

    And here’s to you in hopes you may join the ranks of those writers who have sold an original screenplay to Hollywood.

    “Stars Diss Hollywood”: Or why are there so many “shit movies”?

    January 23rd, 2012 by

    A Huffington Post article today accumulates a lot of F&S-bombs lobbed Hollywood’s way by some well-known actors. A few excerpts starting with Australian actor Joel Edgerton (Animal Kingdom, Warrior):

    “I have an issue with the commercial aspect of moviemaking: I don’t see why a movie can’t make a lot of money and also be good. We see at least two or three of them every year,” he said. “But there is some shit movies out there now. It fucking pisses me off – and I hate it when a shit movie comes out that’s obviously made just to make money, and it does make that money and it lets everybody know that it’s okay to make shit movies because you can get rich off of it. I hate those people.”

    Edgerton put his pen [or computer keyboard] where his mouth is by writing and selling the recent spec script “One Night Stand”.

    Then there’s Daniel Craig:

    “You swear that you’ll never get involved with shit like that, and it happens,” he told Time Out London. “On ‘Quantum,’ we were fucked. We had the bare bones of a script and then there was a writers’ strike and there was nothing we could do. We couldn’t employ a writer to finish it. I say to myself, ‘Never again,’ but who knows? There was me trying to rewrite scenes – and a writer I am not.”

    There are quotes from George Clooney, Megan Fox and a link to a Robert Redford bromide against “robot action flicks.” But it’s Ben Kingsley who really runs with the ball:

    “If we deviate from them and go to a film that is basically a string of sensationalist effects, the thread will snap and we’ll find that people will stop going to the cinema, because people always look for the story,” he said. “I think that once you start to make crucial decisions by committee and each member of that committee is extremely anxious about his or her job, then you’re not going to have the right decisions made. You’re going to have decisions that are fear-based, you are going to have decisions based on what they think they should say, or what they think their boss needs to hear, rather than going out on a limb and being actually creative.

    That’s the reality of Hollywood, something we’ve discussed here ad nauseum: Fear is a big factor in decisions about what gets greenlit and what doesn’t. With millions of dollars involved, it’s essentially about risk assessment.

    But that’s not the whole thing. Since there are no certainties for success, there will always be a leap of faith involved, the decision to make a movie not strictly based on numbers. So a smart writer will write something that’s in the wheelhouse of what Hollywood does well, then make sure to create dynamics and elements in the story that will generate an emotional resonance with a potential buyer. Because if your script causes them to feel something strongly, there’s a chance the buyer will act on the belief the audience will feel that way, too.

    Then there’s going the other way: The independent route. The article mentions how more and more actors “have created their own production companies, to finance smaller films.” Good for them. Now comes the test: When confronted with the same sphincter-tightening fear about committing dollars to a project that studio execs confront on a daily basis, will these actors have the courage to say yes to creative, interesting, and different movies when its their own funding?

    For more of the Huffington Post article, go here.

    “Gender inequality still has a starring role in Hollywood”

    December 4th, 2011 by

    Several things have popped up recently about gender inequality in Hollywood. First this LAT article:

    Cinema trends ebb and flow, but one facet of Hollywood moviemaking proving remarkably consistent is gender inequality, according to a study being released Monday by USC’s Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism.

    In a survey of the top 100-grossing movies of 2009 — including “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” and “The Twilight Saga: New Moon” — researchers found that 32.8% of the 4,342 speaking characters were female and 67.2% were male, a percentage identical to that of the top-grossing movies of 2008.

    “We see remarkably stable trends,” said USC Annenberg associate professor Stacy L. Smith. “This reveals an industry formula for gender that may be outside of people’s conscious awareness.”

    Slashfilm dug into the numbers of the Annenberg study and found this:

    * When women do appear in films, they’re more likely to be eye candy. Jokes about Taylor Lautner’s frequent shirtlessness in the Twilight franchise notwithstanding, it seems that if a character is scantily clad, she’s stil more likely to be female. Female characters were more likely to wear “sexy attire” (25.8% of females versus 4.7% of males), “expose skin” (23.6% versus 7.4%), and be described by other characters as “attractive” (10.9% versus 2.5). What makes this more icky is that this sexualization applies even to younger female characters, with similar statistics for those in the 13-20 age range as those in the 21-39 group. Meanwhile, those figures dropped sharply for women aged 40-64 (14.1%, 14.1%, and 3.9% for attire, skin, and attractiveness, respectively).

    * Hollywood is not kind to older actresses. Maybe that anonymous actress who sued IMDb had a point — youth really is king in Hollywood, especially for women. The gender disparity was lower for characters in the 21-39 range, with females making up 36.9% of speaking roles, but in the 40-64 group, only 24% were female. Or to look at it another way: Over half (56.6%) of female characters were depicted as being between 21 and 39 years of age, while just 22.2% of them were in the 40-64 range. In contrast, 48.7% of male characters were 21-39, while 35.2% were 40-64. Well… at least older women characters get to keep their clothes on?

    Indeed we have evidence of gender inequality with the various recent THR Roundtables:

    Nary a female in sight.

    Then I bumped in this blog post from filmmaker and writer Katrina Richardson:

    But because I am a woman, and because I am a woman of color, it will of course be about those things in the same way that a white male writing about a film, whether he knows it or not, cannot divorce his experience as a white male from any essay. Since “white male” is the world’s (and Hollywood’s) default setting, he believes that he moves through life race-less and gender-less, and so quite naturally, many of his reviews will not include mentions of gender or race. So deeply rooted is the white-male default viewpoint, even I find it hard to escape this thinking. When I think about script ideas, very often times I realize that the character I’ve been imagining is unconsciously a white man. From the moment he is born the way a white male sees the world, the way he forms sentences, the angles that catch his eye, will be different from a woman’s or a person of color’s. [emphasis added] Of course this is the case for every person, but race and gender, along with class, are the largest dictators of how the world interacts with us, yet speaking explicitly from these experiences (as opposed to the implicit white male speech) has long been diminished or dismissed as a niche. When you write about a film, you write about yourself, and if you are not, it is bullshit.

    As writers, at least we can try to do something when we crack open a story: If our default is to start with a male, why not brainstorm the character as a female? I’m not talking about taking an already fully developed character and swapping genders, as that is the height of outside-in thinking, imposing our writer’s will on an existing flesh-and-blood character. Rather I’m suggesting that at the very inception of our story characters, we consider their gender. Straight from the get-go, before they are formed and shaped. That simple choice, a major fork-in-the-road — male, female — can not only widen our story’s cast of characters to be more of an accurate reflection of the real world, it could lead to more interesting characters.

    Of course, choosing to write a female version of a character rather than a male is not a panacea. What we do with each character, the plethora of choices we make developing their personality and psyche is the critical process. However what if at the very beginning of that process, we simply ask a question: What looking at this character not as a [default] male, but as a female?

    What say ye? A case of political correctness? A false way to approach storytelling? Or a mindset that can not only over time lead to more gender equality and perhaps even more interesting characters

    [Of course, the same is true regarding race. Why not widen our perspective to think beyond a default mode of white characters?]

    THR’s Next Gen 2011: 35 under 35 Hollywood up-and-comers

    November 7th, 2011 by

    Per THR about its 18th annual list:

    Meet THR’s 18th annual 35 under 35, the industry’s next big superstars poised to lead a town’s uncertain future.

    Here are links to the entire list:

    Agents

    Digital

    Film

    Legal

    Management

    Publicity

    TV

    Writers and Directors

    Actresses

    Actors

    Hopefully someday you will make this list!

    “Charlie Kaufman’s New Take on Hollywood: A ‘Cancerous Lie-Spewing Machine’”

    October 11th, 2011 by

    From Steve Pond at The Wrap:

    Charlie Kaufman’s feelings of eternal sunshine seem to be over.

    “Frank or Francis,” the Oscar-winning screenwriter’s newest film, is a twisted and bitter broadside against nearly every aspect of the movie business, from filmmakers to critics to audiences.

    TheWrap got an early look at the script, which Kaufman will direct. Here’s his Hollywood 101:

    Moviegoers are dumb sheep who flock to idiotic movies and don’t know how to handle anything the least bit out of the ordinary.

    Movie bloggers are ill-tempered losers who live with their parents, except when they’re pretentious snobs scared to be creative and desperate to tear down other people’s creativity.

    Actors make deals with the devil (or whatever equivalent they can find) to have success.

    Oh, and it’s also a musical.

    —-

    Even Kaufman’s tenderest sentiments in “Frank or Francis” are delightfully adrift in a sea of bile — and toward the end, in a summation delivered by a character about whom the less said the better, Hollywood once again gets a thorough takedown:

    “America’s biggest import, by far, its biggest influence on the global community is itself. Its values, its ideals, its ridiculously inflated opinion about itself. Its idea of celebrity … And how is this export disseminated? Movies, TV, music. You are a cog in this cancerous lie spewing machine.”

    “A cog in this cancerous lie spewing machine.” Sounds like the Hollywood version of “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore.”

    Anybody who has read “Frank or Francis” and cares to weigh in about the script or you just want to vent on Hollywood, see you in Comments.

    For more of The Wrap article, go here.

    “5 Annoying Trends That Make Every Movie Look the Same”

    October 2nd, 2011 by

    From Cracked:

    Hollywood: the dream factory, the place where joy is made and everybody craps rainbows and cocaine. But underneath the glitz is a bunch of working stiffs who are either just trying to get the job done, or hacks who get their original ideas by ripping off other hacks.

    Here are two examples from the article:

    #5. Movies are Color-Coded by Genre

    Have You Ever Noticed:

    There’s some unwritten rule that horror movies should be blue:

    The Ring

    Saw

    The Nightmare on Elm Street reboot.

    Meanwhile, apocalyptic movies are gray and washed out:

    Then there are more subtle ones, for instance movies set in the desert tend to be yellow. And we don’t mean when they’re out in the sun and sand, either. Even when indoors it’ll often look like it was filmed through a jar of urine:

    Smokin’ Aces (Las Vegas)

    The Hills Have Eyes (rural Nevada)

    Movies where reality is off-kilter will be green:

    Fight Club

    The Matrix films, aka The Greenest Movies Ever Made

    Honestly, half the time you can guess the genre of the film based on one still from the trailer.

    What’s Going On?

    It’s called digital color correction. Back in the day, if you wanted your movie to have an artistic, stylish color palette, you had to go through the pain in the ass process of using filters on your lights and camera, or get the footage exposed just the right way. It was expensive, it was difficult and it was limited to people who really knew what they were doing. So if someone took the trouble, it meant they had a good reason, dammit.

    Now? If you’re a Hollywood director, with a few clicks of the mouse you can immediately look stylish and artsy by making the audience feel like they’re watching your movie through a pair of novelty sunglasses. Hell, if you’ve got a Mac and a thousand bucks, you can get a color-correction program and give your home movie of a toddler farting on a cat an otherworldly green tint.

    The Coen brothers didn’t invent it, but Oh Brother, Where Art Thou was the first movie to heavily use digital color correction, to the point that every frame was digitally colored to give it that old-timey sepia tone.

    But where the Coen Brothers were creating a unique and distinct look, other directors have realized these colors are a no-cost way to create atmosphere without, you know, having to write a good script or hire competent actors. These colors are a visual shorthand for various emotions and ideas (yellows seem hotter, blue makes a scene seem lit by spooky moonlight, washed-out grays are depressing). In other words: It’s just laziness.

    And while we’re on color…

    #4. Everything Else is Teal and Orange

    Have You Ever Noticed:

    Just like an early 90s parachute pants designer, movies lately have decided the only two colors they need are teal and orange. As some very sharp-eyed bloggers have pointed out, it’s usually unnaturally orange-tinted skin tones against blue skies:

    Or against dimly-lit rooms with the bluish tint:

    Or whatever orange special effect they can splash against a teal or blue background:

    As others have noted, you don’t even need to look beyond the posters:

    What’s Going On?

    Not everybody wants to get fancy with that their digital coloring. But everybody wants to get lazy.

    This is a color wheel:

    You’ve almost certainly seen one before. Open up your image editing program, it’ll have a version of it. It has all of the colors based on how close they are to each other in hue. Now the goal, if you’re trying to shoot a nice-looking scene, is to get a good contrast with the colors. Since most movies are about humans, you simply find the closest thing to a human’s skin tone on the wheel (somewhere on the upper right) and then make everything else the opposite, most contrasting color (that is, the color on the opposite side of the wheel, or lower left). Teal and orange.

    From the beginning of color film, movies have been trying to set up shots to take advantage of this color combination whenever possible. But here in the era of easy digital color correction, they’ve taken this so far that you get that ridiculous two-color system, where every room is bathed in blue and every human looks like he has a bad spray-on douche-tan.

    To be fair, it’s not necessarily laziness per se. Your average colorist has to grade about two hours of movie, frame by frame sometimes, in the space of a couple of weeks. It doesn’t take that many glances at the deadline bearing down on the calendar before you throw up your hands and say, “Fuck it. Everybody likes teal and orange!”

    How about you? Sick of Hollywood movie color schemes? Have you noticed any other trends along these lines?

    For more of the Cracked article, go here.

    Hollywood is churning out classic fairy tales with a twist

    April 18th, 2011 by
    The always excellent Steve Zeitchik has a good article in the LAT yesterday about Hollywood’s current fascination with developing and producing fairy tale movies. The entire piece is well worth reading, but let me excerpt a few key comments. First here is what film producer and former studio head Joe Roth says:
    “What we have are stories that people have a general knowledge of but don’t know the specifics,” said veteran Hollywood producer Joe Roth, whose Oz movie, “The Great and Powerful,” has James Franco playing a wizard and Mila Kunis a witch. “We believe we can retool and reboot, work out a new story while using technology to our advantage.”

    Then this:

    The trend, say Hollywood insiders, comes in part from the need to appeal to younger filmgoers (or at least a sense of our younger selves) as well as the industry’s coveted grail of “pre-awareness” — the notion that a movie is better served if audiences are already familiar with the title. And what could be more familiar than centuries-old childhood stories?

    And finally this:

    Unlike Hollywood’s fascination with disposable pop-culture names — say, “Transformers,” or the upcoming “Footloose” — fairy-tale movies toy with the sacred. In paying tribute to (and deriving marketing benefits from) these classic texts, Hollywood executives are, in a sense, hoping to have their gingerbread and eat it too. They want reinvention, but they also know they need tradition.

    Can you say “similar but different”? Similar as in pre-existing fairy tales. Different as in using new “technology” [read: 3-D, digital filmmaking, CGI].

    There’s also this trend toward ‘re-casting’ stories — a spin on the premise such as Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters or a switch in narrative point-of-view such as Snow White and the Huntsman.

    I know I bloviate frequently about how the ‘similar but different’ mindset reigns in Hollywood — as in here, here, and here to note just a few posts — but it really is true and any writer who aspires to work in the business really needs to be mindful of it.

    The studios say they want original stories and writers with fresh voices. True, but within the broader confines of a storytelling universe that feels comfortable to them. In other words, ‘similar but different.’

    For more of Zeitchik’s article, go here.