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How to Factor the Oscars: Hidden Figures, Stats on Women Revealed

by Quendrith Johnson, Los Angeles Correspondent

Who knew NASA and IBM would be the corporate darlings of this year’s Oscar race? Or, translated into Award Season trivia for 2017, who knew HIDDEN FIGURES from 20th Century Fox, about three NASA human “Computers,” would run up unexpected numbers at the box office and put stars Kevin Costner, Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monáe on the Oscar radar?

HF-228 - Octavia Spencer stars as Dorothy Vaughan in HIDDEN FIGURES. Photo Credit: Hopper Stone.

Octavia Spencer stars as Dorothy Vaughan in HIDDEN FIGURES. Photo Credit: Hopper Stone.

The graph looks like this according to The Numbers, an insider box-office tracking service: Dec. 25, 2016 (release date) $515,499; Dec. 26, $831,571. Not impressed? By Dec. 27, the picture barely tops $1 M USD. However, in a five-day period between Jan. 5 and Jan. 10, 2017, in a run up to the Golden Globes, HIDDEN FIGURES goes from $2.5 M USD to $30 M USD. From Jan. 10 to Jan. 15, the picture tops $54 M USD and counting.

While the film took a backseat to singing-dancing LA LA LAND on Jan. 8 at the Golden Globes ceremony, nobody can deny that the film’s bump from being included in that awards show made a huge difference as far as audience awareness, and in turn box office totals.

You may not be a big fan of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, or the checkered history of their Golden Globes presentation, but this year the GG’s hit it out of the park for a film that may have stayed hidden had not this show (among others) shined a spot on three remarkable African-American women who helped ushered in a win in the US-Russian Space Race back in the 60’s. The film picked up two nominations, for Hans Zimmer, Pharrell Williams, and Ben Wallfisch for Best Score, and for Octavia Spencer as Best Supporting Actress in a motion picture.

HF-207 - Taraji P. Henson as Katherine G. Johnson and Janelle Monáe as Mary Jackson in HIDDEN FIGURES. Photo Credit: Hopper Stone.

Taraji P. Henson as Katherine G. Johnson and Janelle Monáe as Mary Jackson in HIDDEN FIGURES. Photo Credit: Hopper Stone.

And now a brief moment to shine a spot on the man of the hour, here, because his star-power helped get this funded by Peter Chernin and other execs at 20th who always need “a name.” From Dances with Wolves to McFarland USA (see it), and now Hidden Figures, Costner is one of the only past or present A-List leading men with an eye on the prize for under-represented groups, including women. McFarland director Niki Caro (Whale Rider) singled him out for this Disney film because he is such a likable barrier breaker and that story is about a Mexican-American community track team that defies all odds.

DF-06401_R - Kevin Costner stars as NASA official Al Harrison, in HIDDEN FIGURES. Photo Credit: Hopper Stone.

Kevin Costner stars as NASA official Al Harrison, in HIDDEN FIGURES. Photo Credit: Hopper Stone.

But enough about Kevin Costner, he won’t get a nomination because Best Actor is a tough field this year, although there may be an honorary Oscar someday for his efforts. So let’s recognize him here and now for helping get some tough-to-fund projects made.

Now back to HIDDEN FIGURES, and why this movie may slip out from behind the pack and take Best Picture at the 2017 Academy Awards presentation on Sunday, Feb. 26. (Yes, Best Picture.) This movie is adapted from the novel by Margot Lee Shetterley from Harper Collins, and the real title is “The American Dream and Untold Story of The Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win The Space Race.” Written by an actual native of Hampton, Virginia, the book casts a kind light on John Glenn (Glen Powell) whose performance here is noteworthy as he seems both gender-blind and color-blind. Shetterley herself, as described in her bio is an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellow, as well as “recipient of a Virginia Foundation for the Humanities grant for her research on women in computing.”IBMOct17

Along with gritty but elegant performances by actors Taraji P. Henson (Katherine Johnson), Octavia Spencer (Dorothy Vaughan), and Janelle Monáe (Mary Jackson), the film is a visual essay on the power of STEM in changing lives. STEM stands for Science, Math, Engineering, and Technology. It’s a plank in shoring up the American education system that is badly outdated. The notion that back in the 1960’s these real-life women of science (and of color) could have better chances than some women today is not lost on audiences. Hidden figures is a triple pun, their physical figures, math figures, and today’s still-grim stats for women in significant scientific jobs. Plus, the climate of learning in America right now is so consumer-oriented, most people barely know how to balance a checkbook anymore (much less figure payloads to the moon), as most of us live by the random swipe of plastic in a virtual ETF economy that circles the globe.

Melissa McCarthy hosted a Special Screening of this film earlier in the year, meaning it needed word-of-mouth among Hollywood’s creative community too. HIDDEN FIGURES has had music events. Pharrell Williams has a music credit and did a concert in Toronto for TIFF. It has inspired girl-empowerment events, screenings in Atlanta, all over North America, as a sleeper success story during this Award Season.

But back to the actual story. Vaughan just had a building named after her at NASA to commemorate her work, and Octavia Spencer pays off her legacy on her work getting us to the stars with a stellar performance. When was the last time you saw anyone hold up a Fortran programming book on screen and make it look like a way out of poverty. Spencer absolutely inhabits this real-life role as more than credible, but lovable. However, she is stuck in a very tough category for 2017, up against the formidable Viola Davis, who all but owns this supporting awards category for FENCES, the August Wilson screen adaptation of his literary playwriting masterpiece. Let’s just say there will be no Winner and Nominees in that category this year, it’s a win-win all the way around, no matter who takes home the statuette. TarajiHF17Taraji P. Henson, who slays in her role as Cookie Lyon as part of HBO’s urban epic Empire, did not even pick up a Golden Globe nom in the TV category on Jan. 8, but her performance in HIDDEN FIGURES is masterful in a different way. While she appears at times hysterical and high-strung as Katherine Johnson in HIDDEN, the reality her character touches is everything about all women in the workplace – from the bathroom to the Boardroom. And this is where the movie really spills out into the actual industry itself. It’s not just about women of color, it’s about all women, because no matter how you slice the stats, the stats are always lumped together as the percentages of females in key roles.

Take a look at the 2015 stats here, released in Feb. of 2016, known as the Comprehensive Annenberg Report on Diversity in Entertainment (CARD) from USC’s Institute for Diversity and Empowerment at Annenberg (IDEA). This excerpt here includes only few major statistical breakdowns on women in general for feature films. USCGenDir17Did you know 96.6% of all directors are men, with 3.4% women? Now factor women of color and that 3.4 percent divides again. Out of a pool of 6,421 writers, more than 71% are men, 28.9% are women. And, according to the study, an apologia of sorts, as in “it may also be the case, however, that executives feel more comfortable hiring women directors and screenwriters when the story pulls female.”

How many “executives” are women, you may wonder, to pull off this double miracle of generating more female-driven stories helmed by female-driven hands? Under the heading Top Corporate Executives by Gender and Position, this study reveals fully 81% of Board positions are held by men, while 79% are C-Suite (meaning C-level titles such as CEO, COO, CIO), and even in the ranks of Executive Management, another 81% are men. So we’re looking at a 1-in-5 chance changes will be coming anytime soon, as approximately 20% of the behind-the-scenes decision makers are women. USCCover17

HIDDEN FIGURES is that 1-in-5 project that got through the system. Directed by Theordore Melfi (St. Vincent (Bill Murray, Melissa McCarthy)), he shares a screenplay credit with Allison Schroeder. Schroeder is the writer of Mean Girls 2, and credited on Pineapple Express, but she also has a BA from Stanford, and a went to the Producing Program at USC. Her own story is one of education and advancement, another hidden stat rolled up in this remarkable movie.

The box office for HIDDEN FIGURES continues to climb on a sharp curve upward, and this film ranked #1 in the US in popularity this week for a reason. Not because it’s diverse, not because it’s about women, not because it’s about women of color, math, science, space, or technology… because it’s beyond awesome. These three life stories, based on actual scientists from NASA who excelled and were recognized despite segregation in America, have such poignant arcs that the connection to the audience is palpable in the theater. Now let’s see if Oscar voters feel the same pull, not toward the heavens, but toward the real issue facing people here on earth.

HIDDEN FIGURES official story, full cast credits, and featurette trailers can be found on this link. And now we even send women into space, see these NASA stats from Graphiq.

Stay tuned for more Oscar predictions… and peruse USC’s CARD study here. Mostly add up HIDDEN FIGURES Oscar chances for yourself, see it now.

SCREENMANCER is a gathering place for people who make movies and go out on a limb handicapping the Oscars.

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Award Season 2017: And The Nominees Are… Split & No Director-ess?

by Quendrith Johnson, Los Angeles Correspondent

During Award Season when Hollywood has the limelight, and this includes every major guild and member-based award show up until the 89th Oscars on Sunday, Feb. 26, there is a shopworn practice of splitting the Nominations announcements in the news, setting up anticipation for several different dates for the same organization. DGAlogo17For example, today Jan. 11, the Directors Guild of America (DGA) announced its TV, Commercial and Documentary Nominees, with Feature Film category to be announced later in the week. That’s a minor inconvenience if you’re covering this major award show, but events such as this year’s 22nd Critics Choice Awards announced their TV Nominations on Nov. 17, 2016, followed by Film Nominations on Dec. 1. However vast the Critics Choice Awards audience may or may not be, the bisection of news announcements cuts into coverage for higher profile shows right in this key period during award season. WGAlogo

The Writers Guild of America (WGA) splits screenplay and new media nominees on different dates as well, with TV, New Media, Radio, News, Promo Writing as well as Graphic Animation nominations on Dec. 5, 2016, with WGA features film and documentary screenplay noms on Jan. 4, 2017.  While this almost makes sense for the WGA to highlight the inherent pay and status difference between full blown Hollywood films as opposed to New Media webisodes, the bifurcation distracts from other breaking news.

Morgan Freeman feted at PGA Produced by Event (credit: Mark Gordon)

Morgan Freeman feted at PGA Produced by Event (credit: Mark Gordon)

The Producers Guild of America (PGA) announced nominations for Documentary on Nov. 22, 2016, with TV and Digital Media on Jan. 5, followed by headliner PGA suite of awards for feature films on Jan. 10. The Screen Actors Guild (SAG) on the other hand, made only one major announcement on Dec. 14, 2016.

During the official start of award season in November through the official end with the Oscars in February, the slate of news items include – roughly in order of nominations announcements – Critics Choice Awards, the Gotham Awards, British Independent Film Awards (BIFA), European Film Awards, AMPAS Governors Awards, Independent Spirit Awards, Golden Globe Awards, Annie Awards, National Board of Review, New York Critics Circle Awards, WGA Awards, SAG Awards, DGA Awards, PGA Awards.

Vintage Golden Globes signage.

Vintage Golden Globes signage.

Add the Art Directors Guild Awards, Visual Effects Society Awards, Eddie Awards, also for make-up and costume, along with other regional critics award shows. It’s exhausting.

When you divide up Nominations Announcements for the various organizations as they break down the press releases for certain categories, an already packed agenda becomes almost unmanageable.

So why all the split news releases? Especially when the window for world news, post-election news, and general global events is so crowded right now? The positive spin is extra media attention for lesser known categories. A negative spin is that this fragmentation of press alerts drags down the entire award show season, which results in award show fatigue.

How did this practice get started? Look to the Academy with its Oscar presentation and various life achievement awards. Without exception, all on-the-map events during award season follow the AMPAS leader here. But let’s be realistic, the Academy Awards presentation is a singular and storied event unmatched by any other ceremony in Hollywood history.

Oscar for Hattie McDaniel (Gone With The Wind) in 1940 ceremony, just a few years after Supporting category established.

[Oscar for Hattie McDaniel (GWTW) in 1940, after Supporting category est. 1937.]

After 1928 when the Oscar was known as The Award of Merit, presented in only 12 categories as decided by only a seven-member committee, the first Academy Award ceremony happened May 16, 1929 with a 270-person audience in the Blossom Room of the Roosevelt Hotel. It wasn’t until 1930’s that the show was broadcast on radio. In 1935, Film Editing, Music Scoring and Song as a category was added, even before Best Supporting Actor and Actress in 1937.

Visual Effects was added to the statuette column in 1939 with 20th Century Fox as the first winner. The Thalberg Award was created the previous year, 1938. Foreign Language Film as an accolade debuted in 1947, with Italy the first country to win this Oscar.

The picture that emerges here is the scope of the Academy Awards and the necessity of splitting the news as it details the history of Hollywood’s film industry itself. The same can not be said for the plethora of award shows that followed. LeoAcademyMemeSo, during award season 2017, maybe we’ve reached critical saturation of the so-called breaking news snippets. Additionally, not to harp on it, but when the incoming US President career-shamed legend Meryl Streep as an “overrated actress” it became clear that this issue of gender in nomination categories needs to be addressed once and for all, by the Academy on down. We don’t say “director-ess” or “producer-ess” — so we might as well call everyone Actor. The new categories should be established as Best Lead Actor (Female); Best Lead Actor (Male); Best Supporting Actor (Female), and on throughout the acting categories.

Consider this putting the shows on notice, in the nicest way, on the heels of a very contentious award season in 2016, hoping for better things from 2017 and beyond.

[Editor’s Note: (More history of the Academy Awards can be found on http://www.oscars.org/academy-story.]

SCREENMANCER is a gathering place for people who make movies and write about movies, TV, New Media, and announce it all only once.

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25 Clues Meryl Streep Is Not Overrated: Out of the “Sandra Dee Box” & Into A Twitter War

by Quendrith Johnson, Los Angeles Correspondent

So, here’s the story, as they say in the movies… Sunday night Jan. 8, at the Golden Globes hosted by Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), award-winning actor/legend Meryl Streep stepped in it by “calling out” the new US President-Elect with a pointed speech on bullying as an undesirable trait. Long story, short, the soon-to-be-installed President Donald J. Trump, ignited a Twitter firefight in which he dubbed Streep as among the most “overrated” actors in Hollywood.

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Well, in this tiny press window before the 89th Oscar ceremony on Sunday, Feb. 26, let’s get one thing straight: there are many overrated actors in Hollywood, but New Jersey-native Streep is not one of them. Without naming names, those actors know who they are – but do we really know who Meryl Streep is?

Just look at the interwebs traffic spikes since the Trump Twitter war started, then scroll below for the real deal on America’s (Elder) Sweetheart.

25 reasons Streep isn’t just hype… some obscure & just plain fun ones

1. Was inspired mostly by Mary, her mother, “who lit up a room” and was of Irish extraction. Also wished “my mother and father were alive to hear” the news of her Kennedy Center honor.

2. Streep’s Aunt Jane apparently didn’t think Meryl was an attractive child, also too bossy. It took years, but Meryl finally won her over. Family first focused Streep strikes again.

3. Wanted to be an opera singer, thought better of it, but fell in love with Ethel Merman, Carol Channing and Georgia Brown, iconic crooners on Broadway.

4. Claims she never wanted to be inside the “Sandra Dee Box,” meaning Streep always looked at widening acting for women in strong lead roles.

5. Even though she was Homecoming Queen – and a cheerleader – Meryl still wanted to be the female Spencer Tracy acting-wise.

6. Thumbed her way out of her small Jersey town, hitchhiking with a total stranger at age 21.

7. The legendary Joe Papp, of New York theater world fame, pegged Yale graduate Streep as  a “pure actor.” Going on the record with the quote “There are only a few people I would call pure actors. Meryl is one.”

8. Her first TV screen appearances included a part in breakthrough mini-series Holocaust in 1978, which by its overseas air date in 1979, was said to have “captured the imagination of Germans” in translation. Meryl’s later role in Sophia’s Choice, also translated into German, came with a built-in audience.

9. When TIME magazine published a cheeky article entitled “What Makes Meryl Magic” on Sept. 7, 1981, she confounded the hype by actually pulling off the magic trick of being one of the most nominated actors in Hollywood History.

10. Although “Meryl Streep: A Critical Biography” was published by Eugene E. Pfaff and Mark Emerson in 1987, she managed to build a remarkable career for the next three decades that defied all expectations.Streep17

11. When Newsweek Editor Jack Kroll died in 2000, he was still being credited as one of the first to recognize Meryl Streep’s considerable talents with a full-blown cover story photo and headline of the newcomer that read: “A Star for the ’80’s.” Little did he know this trend would continue today.

12. Has had her share of career disappointments. Meryl even got jealous of Jessica Lange when she landed the part in Sweet Dreams, Patsy Cline’s biopic, but never held it against Lange.

13. Calls the thinspiration sexy ingenue craze in Hollywood the “Victoria Secret Syndrome.”

14. Survived the nadir of her career when she played the Australian woman heard around the world with the phrase “dingo got my baby” in A Cry in the Dark (1988). Incidentally, the “Dingo Baby” cold case was revisited 24 years later because of this film.

15. Nicked the part of Italian lover to Clint Eastwood’s character in Bridges of Madison County from Sophia Loren by accident, but balances that out by the fact her husband was dumb-struck as a young man by Sophia Loren emerging from the sea in 1957’s campy flick Boy on A Dolphin. They’re great friends now.

16. Has stayed substance abuse free, and according to one magazine writer, Meryl Streep orders drinks for friends as “two waters, please.”

17. Wanted her daughter Mamie to study nuclear physics rather than acting, but later admitted she was kidding about the nuclear physics part – though initially seriously against acting.

18. Told Esquire magazine’s writer in 1984 that the problem with baby strollers in Manhattan is that they are at the level of car exhaust pipes, cementing her status as a truly caring mother.

19. Meryl Streep claims she does not have a favorite director. Implying many things about her diplomacy skills.

20. Has encouraged Martin Scorsese to feature a balanced, strong female lead character but doubts he will do it during her lifetime.

21. Admitted she was a below average cook while playing Julia Child in Julie & Julia.

22. Inspired a young Brittany Murphy with her performance in “Crayon versus Crayon” – before Murphy could pronounce the title. Sadly Murphy didn’t live to see her mentor continue to flourish.

23. Though inexplicably disliked by Katharine Hepburn, who may actually have sensed a threat to her own legacy in Hollywood, Streep didn’t let it phase her.

24. In 2003, when the reasons for Katharine Hepburn’s dislike of Streep were made public in the Scott Berg book “Kate Remembered,” the deceased Grand Dame labeled Meryl too technical as an actor and too cerebral — two traits Hepburn was famous for in the industry. Uh, Hepburn was also revealed to be a huge fan of John Travolta and enchanted with Michael Jackson. Streep: 1, Hepburn: 0.

25. Mary Louise “Meryl” Streep championed Patricia Arquette at the 2015 Oscar ceremony when Arquette demanded “equal pay for equal work” about women’s compensation in the industry. Not just talk, Streep has always championed the word “actor” for women instead of the throwback term “actress,” and in 2015 began funding a Women over 40 Screenwriting Program through New York Women in Film & Television to give unsung mature women a chance to shine in writing.

BONUS Points: As of Jan. 9, 2017, Meryl Streep, 67 years wise, refuses to respond to a Trump Twitter war slamming her speech denouncing bullying at the 2017 Golden Globes, held Sunday, Jan. 8, 2017.

So there’s 25 clues for Streep fans, as well as Mr. President-elect. While there is no Oscar for The Peaceful Transfer of Power in a Democracy, let’s all act accordingly. With Meryl Streep as a shining example of grace under pressure.

[Editor’s Note: Sources for this list include GOOD HOUSEKEEPING, TIME, Newsweek, book references as indicated, and archival interviews. Visualization from GRAPHIQ. The views expressed here are not designed to start a Twitter war with the incoming US President, God Bless America.]

SCREENMANCER is a gathering place for people who make movies, and are patriotic supporters of Meryl Streep.

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Recap: What We Love About WGA (West & East), Oral History & Agency List

LOS ANGELES, CA (Jan. 5, 2017): Yesterday when The Writers Guild of America (WGA) released its Nominations list for 2016, for the 2017 WGA Awards presentation on Feb.19, and DEADPOOL’s adapted screenplay stood right alongside legendary playwright August Wilson’s opus Fences, it reminded everyone why the WGA is not only still relevant, but groundbreaking. The WGA recognizes that movie-writing is not playwriting, and that screenplays in all their ever-changing forms are what drive the stories we see on screen. Yes, Screenwriting, with a capital “s,” is its own art form.

Even though the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), the Directors Guild of America (DGA), and the Producers Guild of America (PGA) would put forth actors, directors, and producers as the key factors — as the late Garry Marshall always said “it comes down to the writing. It’s always about the writing.”

Unlike other guilds, the WGA’s history is preserved in oral history interviews on their website (see link below). The video clips are excellent, but we once had a rare opportunity to publish an interview with the legendary WGA past President Del Reisman (born: April 13, 1924), who died on Jan. 8, 2011.

Although it’s the sixth anniversary of Del Reisman’s death next week, he will live on indefinitely as a chronicler not only of the WGA’s backstory, but of his own parallel path as a “studio brat” from Hollywood’s Golden Era.

This interview is from 2007. He was interviewed by Screenmancer Founder & Exec. Prod., Quendrith Johnson. We’ve included the current Agency List for screenwriters looking for representation as an incentive to read through to the end to discover the whole story of the WGA as we know it today.

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Photo Credit: Joe Rubalcaba

FOREWORD

[WGAw provided this introduction when the interview first appeared.]

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The following is a brief look at the early days of writers’ struggles in the Studio System, and later in the explosive growth of television. Some of these comments are based on frequent conversations with many of the prominent users of studio-owned Underwoods and Royals, during these dynamic days. Del Reisman’s mother, an employee of the great majors, was an additional source of attitude and opinion. Del Reisman himself wrote scripts and story-edited in the last years of the system and in the formative years of television. As a WGAW activist of many years, elected President from 1991-93, he knew the industry in both full shot and close-up.

DEL REISMAN: The Screen Writers Guild was founded in March 1933 at the absolute depths of the depression when America was on its heels. The industry was in turmoil. The studios were all declaring cuts in fees. There was a famous meeting at MGM, which was the giant studio at the time, in which the head of the studio, Louis B. “LB” Mayer, presided. All employees were there: movie stars, grips, everyone. Mayer announced there would be a salary cut of 50 percent. Those earning less then $50 a week would get cut less, and those earning above $50 a week would be cut [back] more. in those days $50 a week was a very livable income. There was a popular star, a great character actor named Wallace Beery sitting in the back, he said: “LB are you going to take the cut too?” And LB said: “Well, no. We plan to restore the cuts in six months.” And Wallace Berry walked out of the meeting.

QUENDRITH JOHNSON: This was really in the swing of the Great Depression. I mean the Stock Market crashed in October 1929, but the general public really felt it hit throughout the 1930’s.

DEL: There were salary cuts all over. Earlier, some of the writers under contract went to see the creative head of MGM, Irving Thalberg. [Thalberg] said: “I can’t do anything about this.” And the writers said: “You raised the regular salaries of the [below-the-line] people on the set. “And Thalberg said: ” Well, they are represented by unions.” The writers left and said: “I think he just told us what to do.” The connection that I make, just a personal reaction, is this — there was a tremendous earthquake in Hollywood [at this time], and it shook down most of Long Beach and Compton — [but] there were faults that came up into this area. A lot of the office buildings downtown lost their decorative statuary and miles away at Hollywood High School, where I attended years later, were, were damaged. There was some death and some injury… terrible property damage. Then a month later the Writers Guild was founded. I always make the connection there were two great shakes of the earth that historic month.

Studio-contract writers, which is to say virtually all screenwriters, joined the new organization, many of them under front-office threats to fail to renew their contracts at option time. A significant number chose not to join, some of them very prominent writers. They formed a rival group, Screen Playwrights. The new Guild was not officially recognized as a bargaining unit by the Federal Government; so the whole thrust of the Guild was to get recognized so they could negotiate with the companies.

In 1938, there was an election held at the old Athletic Club on Sunset. The Guild won over Screen Playwrights, a company-supported group, frequently called a sweetheart union. The Guild thus became the official bargaining unit for the writers, recognized by the Federal Government.

A lot of the members of the Screen Playwrights joined immediately. The job then was to negotiate with the major studios — there was no television.

It took the Screen Writers Guild until 1942, the first big war year, to get their first contract, which was I think was five and a half pages long. (Today, in 2007, it’s close to 500 pages, covering every aspect of writers’ activity, except the new so-called reality shows. [By 2014 the WGA’s Minimum Basic Agreement (MBA) was 671 pages, and is in force until May 1, 2017]).

The one thing they got was the right of the new guild to the exclusive determination of the onscreen writers credit. That was a huge gain. And we still have that. (The companies can recommend what they think the credits should be, but the determination is made by the Guild.) So the founding years were very difficult; there were a lot of writers signed up, and there were only [the] major studios to deal with. There were virtually no independent production companies. And that was the world as it was before TV.

There were a lot of great writers working in those tough years, many of them brilliant. Their work still being studied in film schools throughout the world. To name a few: Ben Hecht, Charles MacArthur, Philip Dunne, Herman Mankiewicz, Lester Cole, John Howard Lawson, Dalton Trumbo, Jules Furthman…

QUENDRITH: What about Lenore Coffee? The other female writer…

DEL: I know who you mean, Mary Pickford’s writing partner.

QUENDRITH: Yes. Frances Marion.

DEL: Right. Frances Marion, Lenore Coffee, Anita Loos. Anita Loos was a very famous writer. Frances Marion was at one time the highest paid screenwriter in Hollywood; she was Mary Pickford’s writing partner.

QUENDRITH: So these big names were behind the crediting process?

DEL: Again, I’m giving you a point of view gathered from many conversations with many writers. I could quote those who believe the system works, and those who believe it should be changed radically; suffice to say, the old system of awarding writing credits was very casual. It was done by the studios. Sometimes the studios would award credit like “well, we owe this guy something” — the proverbial nephew.

In 1942 when the first contract was signed, the contract went for a period of something like three years. That became true for all unions, both above and below-the-line. Negotiations, however, became complicated for all unions when television came in. Coast-to-coast broadcasting was engineered in 1948.

I may be jumping ahead, but I wanted to tell you this: television developed seemingly overnight. All of a sudden, people were staying home and watching whatever was on the tube. They’d see commercials done visually and it was the ‘new medium,’ meaning [audiences] stayed away from the theaters. There was a tremendous reaction from the studios about this. One studio, 20th Century Fox — not related to the present FOX — [in which] the head of the studio was a man named Darryl Zanuck. [He] brought back [a specially designed lens] to America from France in the 1950’s developed by the Ingenue Company, I believe.

The lens became what he [Zanuck] called, or 20th Century Fox called Cinemascope, which projected a widescreen image. Philip Dunne [whose portrait and brief bio adorn the walls of the WGA] wrote the first movie in this new aspect ratio, “The Robe,” based on a best-selling book by Lloyd C. Douglas. It was a big biblical epic. It brought people back into the theaters just to look, and say: “What’s going on here?”

QUENDRITH: It was a different aspect ratio?

DEL: The normal projection was more of a square, so when this came along, it was big. It had a huge curiosity factor. It instituted a lot of widescreen films. People began to return to theaters. But parallel to this, television continued to simply expand. By the time of early 50’s TV audiences were enormous all across the country. There were the two basic networks, NBC and CBS. Then they split off, and ABC was formed. That was the world in which writers functioned. Seven majors and three networks, hardly any independent productions. Then in the mid 50’s, RCA which owned NBC, developed color for television.

QUENDRITH: Where were you in your own career at this time?

DEL: I was working at NBC as a story editor. They developed a show called NBC Matinee Theater that was done in color. It sounds incredible now, but there were 5 shows a week, 1 hour. It was an anthology of new stories. It was in NY and here, but it was shot here in Los Angeles. NBC opened its new studios in Burbank, which they still have, to accommodate everything they were doing.

QUENDRITH: So it must have skewed female?

DEL: Not only that, but it gave the appliance places something to show in the middle of the day. You’d walk past a window full of TVs and see color televisions.

QUENDRITH: And their advertisers?

DEL: Exactly. I think Matinee went on the air in ’54 or ’55. It was on the air two or three years. I was on the very first GI bill at the end of the war. How I get there, how I ended up in the new ‘medium.’ When I was discharged, honorably discharged. I went to UC Berkeley on the GI bill and kind of rushed through. I found it very difficult to adjust [back to civilian life] — I was a bomdardier in a B17. If you ever say the movie “The Best Years of Our Lives”? Dana Andrews went into the nose — that’s it. These planes were prop-driven. No jets. So I flew 35 missions.

QUENDRITH: Did you go into the Pacific Theater of Operations?

DEL: No, just the “ETO,” the European Theater of Operations. The name of the outfit was the 381st Heavy Bombardment Group, Eighth Air Force. France was occupied by Germany. We bombed some targets in occupied France, but most if it was Germany itself. The Ruhr Valley with Essen and Dusseldorf , Cologne — that was the manufacturing world. I went to Berlin six times. I can tell you that was not fun…

QUENDRITH: It was complete devastation, I’m sure…

DEL: They lost a lot. We lost a lot of planes. We went as far as Munich and in the north, Hamburg, Peenemunde, where they launched the V-2s over London.

QUENDRITH: May I segue by saying Hollywood and its politics must have been lightweight compared to that?

DEL: Hollywood was nothing compared to that, because nobody was shooting at you. I didn’t come home to become a writer. I had no interest in it. But I thought that somehow, I’d become a part of the studio system. Maybe film editing, maybe camera. I was a studio brat. My younger sister and I were studio brats. My mother was a secretary at the old Universal Studios (Carl Laemmle and all that). We used to, as little kids, go out to see her at Universal, at her office. The family story is an old Depression story… my father kind of took off — so she was it, she was the income for us. If Universal went bankrupt, that was always being threatened there would be nothing for us. You know that the secretaries in those days knew everything that happens and was about to happen. My mother was the production unit’s contact with the Breen office, later the Shurlock office, the administrators of the code. She took down their problems and passed them on to a very angry studio.

My kid sister and I would frequently be on set. They would allow kids on set, if they shut up. The grips, everyone at the studio, had the same problem: kids, baby-sitters cost money. My mother was a member of the SOEG (Screen Office Employee Guild). So the Executive Director was Herbert K. Sorrell. All we did as kids was go in the back row [during SOEG meetings]. There were chairs there; the kids would just flake out and sleep. Usually were a dozen or more children there. SOEG was a guild. A wild union. Years later, after the war, Herb Sorrell, executive director of the union, wrote his autobiography. He had fought hard for the below-the-line people in the industry. He identified himself as a Communist.

QUENDRITH: We’ll lead into the Black List from here.

DEL: Let me leap ahead to the Black List. I was on the Guild’s Black List credits committee.Our job was to check to see the identities of the real writers behind the fronts or pseudonyms. We began this process trying to cut through the fog of memory and the series of obfuscations by the studios. That started in 1996 and went up to 1999/2000.

QUENDRITH: Paul Jarrico, he was one —

DEL: Exactly. Paul Jarrico, and my friend George Kirgo. Both are deceased.

QUENDRITH: Were you ever on the Black List?

DEL: I was never on the black list, and neither was George. But we were both young writers working in the Blacklist years — that tragic time. Well, it left its mark on everyone. It lasted 15 years. Some of those denied work (under their own names) were struggling for the full 15 years. Sure, some were Communists. The Guild’s first President, John Howard Lawson, he is remembered as the first, but he was actually the second President of the new Screen Writers Guild in 1933. People knew of his politics — did I mention the name Lester Cole?

QUENDRITH: Right, the writer?

DEL: Yes, he was a Communist. As were others of great talent and great determination to create and develop the Guild. There was not a great love of their politics across the unions or from Hollywood — most just found them difficult in labor union matters because they were so well organized they controlled meetings by legal parliamentary proceedings. The writers who were around then spoke angrily of their maneuvering, but the Guild was a First Amendment organization above all.

QUENDRITH: So they had political agenda already not connected with anything to do with Hollywood?

DEL: Yes, essentially support of the Soviet Union. Actually, this was before the war, or at least the entrance into war.

QUENDRITH: What an incredible mix of issues for the country and Hollywood!

DEL: I want to mention this date. In 1954 when all of this was developing, the Guild merged with the Television Writers of America, and merged with the Radio Writers Guild of New York and Los Angeles. So that was [this] merger, and under a new name [that is] now Writers Guild of America.

QUENDRITH: Are New York and LA autonomous? If not, which is the controlling body? Or is there a controlling entity?

DEL: For various corporate reasons, there were actually new corporations formed, Writers Guild West and Writers Guild East. Hollywood was the center of moviemaking at the studios. New York, with all of its history in live television, had been the center of TV.

But with the major studios getting into TV, the New York group had fewer and fewer people to represent because writers literally moved here physically.

QUENDRITH: Who is the final arbiter?

DEL: That’s a good question. The leadership is separate, so they have their board and their special needs. For example, in New York they represent many newswriters, so they have special needs. And we [WGA West] continue to represent mostly TV writers, animation writers, and screenwriters because of the huge amount of activity that continues here. Face-to-face meetings, despite email, faxing, even teleconferencing, continue to be critical.

QUENDRITH: Amidst all the technology and other changes, are the majors retaining their loyalty to Hollywood? What I mean is, to clarify, is LA still the magnet for the decision makers in the industry? Is there loyalty to the area, the concept of “Hollywood” as a physical location and a symbolic icon of the industry?

DEL: If you have runaway production with major studios making films anywhere where it is cheaper, literally the Balkans, Bulgaria, Romania, etc. — that means that they are made without our labor union contracts, without labor union protection or [with] different labor union protection.

QUENDRITH: How about all the productions that went to Canada?

DEL: There was so much shooting in Canada because of the currency exchange. The protections can be avoided — like the Black Dahlia story —

QUENDRITH: The recent one with Hilary Swank?

DEL: Yes. I’m pretty sure that was made in Bulgaria. They made the sets, everything; they did not have to pay the standard fees. It is cheaper. To answer your question, they film there because [production costs] are cheaper. And our city, L.A., doesn’t look like the L.A. of the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s, not anymore.

QUENDRITH: What is the net effect on the psyche of the industry — is there still loyalty in LA to Hollywood?

DEL: My mother at the old Universal wouldn’t recognize the industry today. Announcements in the trades would baffle her, because there are four or five production entities.

QUENDRITH: They split the costs?

DEL: Right, they split the cost. So the financial partners that split the cost are as much involved as the studio. The authority has changed a lot. Who runs the movie has changed a lot.

QUENDRITH: How does that affect the writers?

DEL: You have many bosses. You will get attitudes and opinions from a number of the financial sources. I don’t think there is any history of them giving notes — “Do this on page 14” — but they wouldn’t put money in unless the project was in good hands [as far as] writers, producers, directors, actors. The only reason they would put money in is “we want more action adventure” — otherwise they won’t put money in.

If it is a big Will Ferrell comedy — “We want big laughs or we won’t put money in.” Well, maybe they leave Will Ferrell alone. Apparently, he can do no wrong.

They have to be secure that it is the film they want, that wherever they are from, they get the movie they want. Take “Mission Impossible: 3,” they pretty much know what kind of movie it will be [with Tom Cruise]. They know the nature of the film they are making.

QUENDRITH: The regular machinery of Hollywood, how writers and actors and directors work, is changing as fast as the technology almost. Non-traditional arrangements are everywhere in the business now.

DEL: I’m thinking of Philip Dunne right now. Phil wrote the terrific screenplay for “How Green Was My Valley” — I think that was ’41, maybe ’40. He had one boss, Zanuck. Then both he and Zanuck sat down with the director, John Ford, and the star, a 12-year-old Roddy McDowall. They made the picture, not layers of authority, not tons of notes.

QUENDRITH: Where is your life now as a writer?

DEL: I’m still in the game. And I’ve been teaching for the last twelve years at AFI.

QUENDRITH: Are you writing a book about your experiences, the history of the business from your POV?

DEL: Up to now, I say no. I’m not writing a book.

QUENDRITH: You are saving that for old age?

DEL: We’ll see.

Del never finished the book he was working on, but he’d have approved of the list below — as promised. He’d be happy to know Will Ferrell has made a few bombs by now, and while Tom Cruise still commands box office results overseas, at home things are different. Because every new audience needs new storytellers, and there can’t be any storytellers without the stories. So in 2017, for those of you with screenwriting aspirations, here’s the WGA’s list of agents. Don’t bother them unless you’ve written something outstanding, have already placed in the Nicholl Fellowship, or are seeking a new agent. But mostly, keep your New Year’s Resolution for 2017 to keep writing.

We took out the phone number contacts, which can only be found at the WGAw website. Here’s a link for the WGA List, also the WGA Oral History project.

THE AGENCY LIST

Above The Line Agency
468 N Camden Dr
Ste 200
Beverly Hills, CA 90210

Agency For The Performing Arts
405 S Beverly Dr
Beverly Hills, CA 90212

Allensworth Entertainment, Inc.
433 N Camden Dr Fl 4
Beverly Hills, CA 90210-4408

Alpern Group, The
15645 Royal Oak Rd
Encino, CA 91436

American Media Artists
4830 Encino Ave
Encino, CA 91316

Annette Van Duren Agency
3810 Wilshire Blvd #1906
Los Angeles, CA 90010-3223

Avail Talent
2990 Grace Lane
Costa Mesa, CA 92626

Beth Bohn Management Inc
2658 Griffith Park Blvd
Ste 508
Los Angeles, CA 90039

BiCoastal Talent & Literary Agency
2600 W Olive Ave Ste 500
Burbank, CA 91505-4572

Bobby Ball Talent Agency
3500 W Olive Ave Ste 300
Burbank, CA 91505-4647

Brady, Brannon & Rich
5670 Wilshire Blvd Ste 820
Los Angeles, CA 90036-5613

Brant Rose Agency
6671 Sunset Blvd
Ste 1584 B
Los Angeles, CA 90028

Brogan Agency
1517 Park Row
Venice, CA 90291

Candace Lake Agency, Inc.
1072 Laurel Ln
Pebble Beach, CA 93953-3112

Career Artists International
11030 Ventura Blvd #3
Studio City, CA 91604

Cavaleri & Associates
3500 W Olive Ave Ste 300
Burbank, CA 91505-4647

Chasin Agency, Inc.
8899 Beverly Blvd
Ste 716
Los Angeles, CA 90048

Contemporary Artists, Ltd.
610 Santa Monica Blvd
Ste 202
Santa Monica, CA 90401

CAA: Creative Artists Agency, LLC
2000 Ave Of The Stars
Los Angeles, CA 90067

Criterion
4842 Sylmar Ave
Sherman Oaks, CA 91423-1716

David Shapira & Associates
193 N Robertson Blvd
Beverly Hills, CA 90211

Don Buchwald & Associates
6500 Wilshire Blvd
Ste 2200
Los Angeles, CA 90048

Dravis Agency, The
4370 Tujunga Ave
Ste 145
Studio City, CA 91604

Equitable Stewardship for Artists
6363 Wilshire Blvd Ste 650
Los Angeles, CA 90048-5725

Featured Artists Agency
8844 W Olympic Blvd Ste 200
Beverly Hills, CA 90211-3623

Gersh Agency, Inc.
9465 Wilshire Blvd Fl 6
Beverly Hills, CA 90212-2605

Global Talent Agency
2615 W Magnolia Blvd
Ste 101
Burbank, CA 91505

Grant, Savic, Kopaloff & Associates
6399 Wilshire Blvd
Ste 414
Los Angeles, CA 90048

Gregory David Mayo Representing the Performing Arts
10061 Riverside Dr # 242
Toluca Lake, CA 91602-2560

Hollywood View Agency
5255 Veronica St
Los Angeles, CA 90008

ICM Partners
10250 Constellation Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90067

Innovative Artists
1505 Tenth St
Santa Monica, CA 90401

Irv Schechter Company
9460 Wilshire Blvd
Ste 300
Beverly Hills, CA 90212

Jack Lenny Associates
9454 Wilshire Blvd
Ste 600
Beverly Hills, CA 90212

Jim Preminger Agency
10866 Wilshire Blvd
10th Floor
Los Angeles, CA 90024

JKA Talent & Literary Agency
12725 Ventura Blvd
Studio City, CA 91604

Kaplan Stahler Agency
8383 Wilshire Blvd
Ste 923
Beverly Hills, CA 90211

Kathleen Schultz Associates
6442 Coldwater Cyn
Ste 117
Valley Glen, CA 91606

Larchmont Literary Agency
444 N Larchmont Blvd
Ste 200
Los Angeles, CA 90004

Laya Gelff Agency
16133 Ventura Blvd
Ste 700
Encino, CA 91436

Lenhoff & Lenhoff
830 Palm Ave
W Hollywood, CA 90069

Lisa Callamaro Literary Agency
427 N Canon Dr
Ste 202
Beverly Hills, CA 90210

Lynne & Reilly Agency
10725 Vanowen Street
Ste 113
North Hollywood, CA 91605

Maggie Roiphe Agency
1721 S Garth Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90035

Media Artists Group
8222 Melrose Ave Fl 2
Los Angeles, CA 90046-6825

Metropolitan Talent Agency
5405 Wilshire Blvd Ste 218
Los Angeles, CA 90036-4203

Michael Lewis & Associates
2506 Fifth Street
Ste 100
Santa Monica, CA 90405

Mitchell K. Stubbs & Associates
8695 W Washington Blvd
Ste 204
Culver City, CA 90232

Nancy Chaidez Agency
6340 Coldwater Cyn
Ste 214
North Hollywood, CA 91606

Natural Talent, Inc.
3331 Ocean Park Blvd
Ste 203
Santa Monica, CA 90405

Pantheon
1801 Century Park East
Ste 1910
Los Angeles, CA 90067

Paradigm
360 N Crescent Dr
North Bldg
Beverly Hills, CA 90210

Paul Kohner, Inc.
9300 Wilshire Blvd
Ste 555
Beverly Hills, CA 90212

Preferred Artists
16633 Ventura Blvd
Ste 1421
Encino, CA 91436

Rebel Entertainment Partners, Inc.
5700 Wilshire Blvd
Ste 456
Los Angeles, CA 90036

Rothman Brecher Agency
9250 Wilshire Blvd
Penthouse
Beverly Hills, CA 90212

RPM Talent
2600 W Olive Ave
5th Floor
Burbank, CA 91505

Sarnoff Company, Inc., The
1600 Rosecrans Avenue
Media Center, 4th Floor
Manhattan Beach, CA 90266

Savage Agency, The
6212 Banner Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90038-2802

Silver Bitela Agency
6612 Pacheco Way
Citrus Hts, CA 95610

Stars, The Agency
23 Grant Ave 4th Fl
San Francisco, CA 94108

Starwil Prods Talent Agency
433 N Camden Dr 4th Fl
Beverly Hills, CA 90210

Stein Agency, The
5125 Oakdale Ave
Woodland Hills, CA 91364

Stuart M. Miller Co, The
11684 Ventura Blvd
Ste 225
Studio City, CA 91604

Suite A Management Talent & Literary Agency
136 El Camino Dr Ste 202
Beverly Hills, CA 90212-2705

Summit Talent & Literary Agency
9454 Wilshire Blvd
Ste 203
Beverly Hills, CA 90212

United Talent Agency, Inc.
UTA Plaza
9336 Civic Center Drive
Beverly Hills, CA 90210

Nerve Talent & Literary Agency LLC
6310 San Vicente Blvd Ste 100
Los Angeles, CA 90048-5498

Warden Group, The
PO Box 1595
Beverly Hills, CA 90213-1595

William Kerwin Agency
1605 N Cahuenga Blvd
Ste 202
Hollywood, CA 90028

Wilson & Associates
5482 Wilshire Blvd Ste 175
Los Angeles, CA 90036-4218

WME Entertainment
9601 Wilshire Blvd 3rd Fl
Beverly Hills, CA 90210

This original interview can be found in its entirety here. The 2017 Writers Guild Awards take place in LA and NY on Sunday, Feb. 19, 2017, see www.wga.org for details.

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SCREENMANCER is a gathering place for people who make movies and people making a lot of first drafts trying to make movies.

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Slow Clap to Wild Applause: WGA Nom for DEADPOOL is Dead On

by Quendrith Johnson, Los Angeles Correspondent

Say what you will about “rigged” elections and fixed ways of thinking, voters at the WGA (Writers Guild of America) just went rogue and nominated DEADPOOL. Okay, they didn’t exactly go rogue, they actually went bold by nominating the graphic novel adapt of a Marvel character, from the X-Men series, by 20th Century Fox – a genre often limited to the margins of high art. Why are they right to do so? Because it’s not about the Ryan Reynolds-driven black-eyed-red bodysuit, it’s about the dialogue.

RyanTim17Directed by first-timer Tim Miller, honcho of blur studios, DEADPOOL features a superb script that catapulted a story that took more than a decade to realize on screen.

This is the biggest surprise in this year’s announcement on the finalists for the WGA Awards, to be held in simultaneous bi-coastal joint ceremonies on Sunday, February 19, 2017, in Los Angeles at the Beverly Hilton and in New York City at the Edison Ballroom.

Before you look over the entire selection in features and documentaries, just a quick rule refresher, courtesy of the WGA:
“Feature films eligible for a Writers Guild Award were exhibited theatrically for at least one week in Los Angeles during 2016 and were written under the WGA’s Minimum Basic Agreement (MBA) or under a bona fide collective bargaining agreement of the Writers Guild of Canada, Writers’ Guild of Great Britain, Writers Guild of Ireland, Writers’ Guild of South Africa, New Zealand Writers Guild, Film Writers’ Association (India), La Guilde Francaise des Scénaristes (France), Scriptwriters Guild of Israel, Société des Auteurs de Radio, Télévision et Cinéma (Québec), or Verband Deutscher Drehbuchautoren (VDD/Germany), collectively known as affiliate Guilds. Theatrical screenplays produced under the jurisdiction of the WGA or an affiliate Guild must have been submitted for Writers Guild Awards consideration.”
And, “documentaries eligible for a Writers Guild Award featured an onscreen writing credit and were exhibited theatrically in Los Angeles or New York for one week during 2016. Theatrical documentaries must have been produced under the jurisdiction of the WGA or an affiliate Guild to be eligible for awards consideration.”

No, their award still doesn’t have a name, but it resembles the Winged Victory, for lack of a better moniker, in their logo below.

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So here’s the entire list, and we won’t get into the sins of omission, just the marvel at Marvel’s good fortune. That and Alex Gibney’s ZERO DAYS, which is so relevant in the election-year hacking fracas that it should do well in every award show in 2017.
And the nominees are…

2017 WRITERS GUILD AWARDS SCREENPLAY NOMINATIONS

Los Angeles and New York – The Writers Guild of America, West (WGAW) and the Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE) have announced nominations for outstanding achievement in screenwriting during 2016. Winners will be honored at the 2017 Writers Guild Awards on Sunday, February 19, 2017, at concurrent ceremonies in Los Angeles and New York City.

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Hell or High Water, Written by Taylor Sheridan; CBS Films

La La Land, Written by Damien Chazelle; Lionsgate

Loving, Written by Jeff Nichols; Focus Features

Manchester by the Sea, Written by Kenneth Lonergan; Amazon Studios/Roadside Attractions

Moonlight, Written by Barry Jenkins, Story by Tarell McCraney; A24

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Arrival, Screenplay by Eric Heisserer; Based on the Story “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang; Paramount Pictures

Deadpool, Written by Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick; Based on the X-Men Comic Books; Twentieth Century Fox Film

DeadpoolTim17

Fences, Screenplay by August Wilson; Based on his Play; Paramount Pictures

Hidden Figures, Screenplay by Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi; Based on the Book by Margot Lee Shetterly; Twentieth Century Fox Film

Nocturnal Animals, Screenplay by Tom Ford; Based on the Novel Tony and Susan by Austin Wright; Focus Features

DOCUMENTARY SCREENPLAY

Author: The JT LeRoy Story, Written by Jeff Feuerzeig; Amazon Studios

Command and Control, Telescript by Robert Kenner and Eric Schlosser, Story by Brian Pearle and Kim Roberts; Based on the book Command and Control by Eric Schlosser; American Experience Films

Zero Days, Written by Alex Gibney; Magnolia Pictures

ZeroDaysPoster16

The Writers Guild Awards honor outstanding writing in film, television, new media, videogames, news, radio, promotional, and graphic animation categories. The awards will be presented at concurrent ceremonies on Sunday, February 19, 2017, in Los Angeles at the Beverly Hilton and in New York City at the Edison Ballroom. For more information about the 2017 Writers Guild Awards, please visit www.wga.org or www.wgaeast.org.

The Writers Guild of America, West (WGAW) and the Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE) are labor unions representing writers in motion pictures, television, cable, digital media, and broadcast news. The Guilds negotiate and administer contracts that protect the creative and economic rights of their members; conduct programs, seminars, and events on issues of interest to writers; and present writers’ views to various bodies of government. For more information on the Writers Guild of America, West, visit www.wga.org. For more information on the Writers Guild of America, East, visit www.wgaeast.org.

SCREENMANCER is a gathering place for people who make movies and keep writing unproduced screenplays.

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[Golden Boy Already - Six-time Oscar nominee has nothing to prove since 2010 for CRAZYHEART.]

The Dude, AKA Jeff Bridges Now in HIGHWATER, Wins American Riviera Award From Santa Barbara

LOS ANGELES: Sometimes a press release is so good it’s just fine art, or more specifically it’s the holidays and we’re lazy, plus this is great writing from our friends in the business. That said, we’d only put a slightly different headline on it, for the diehard hipsters. Which is “The Dude, AKA Jeff Bridges Now in HIGHWATER, Wins American Riviera Award From Santa Barbara,” whereas our more respectable writing colleagues began something like this:

JEFF BRIDGES TO RECEIVE AMERICAN RIVIERA AWARD AT THE 32nd ANNUAL SANTA BARBARA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL

Santa Barbara, CA (December 21, 2016) – The Santa Barbara International Film Festival announced today that Jeff Bridges will be honored with the 2017 American Riviera Award at the 32nd edition of the Fest, which runs from February 1 to February 11, 2017. Bridges will be fêted with a Tribute celebrating his illustrious career, culminating with his captivating performance in David Mackenzie’s Hell or High Water, a CBS Films/Lionsgate release. The film opened in August to critical acclaim. The Tribute will take place Thursday, February 9, 2017 at the historic Arlington Theatre.

French language poster had the most awesome look at Cannes.

[French-language poster for Cannes.]

For his role in Hell or High Water, Bridges has received Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Award nominations for Best Supporting Actor, as well as the National Board of Review Award for Best Supporting Actor. Bridges’ renowned career includes celebrated roles in films such as The Big Lebowski, Fearless, The Contender, The Mirror Has Two Faces, The Fabulous Baker Boys, The Door in the Floor, True Grit, Starman, The Morning After, Jagged Edge, The Last Picture Show, Against All Odds, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, The Fisher King, Seabiscuit, and Crazy Heart (for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor).

“Jeff Bridges shows us in Hell or High Water that an already great artist can continue his growth.  I may go as far as saying that this is his best performance,” stated SBIFF Executive Director Roger Durling. “It’s truly special to be able to celebrate Jeff – for he’s not only a dear friend of SBIFF – but he is a timeless legend in our industry.”

[Golden Boy Already - Six-time Oscar nominee has nothing to prove since 2010 for CRAZYHEART.]

[Golden Boy Already – Six-time Oscar nominee has nothing to prove since 2010 win for CRAZYHEART.]

A modern-day set crime western, Hell or High Water tells the riveting story of a divorced father and his ex-con older brother who resort to a desperate scheme in order to save their family’s ranch in West Texas.  The film, directed by David Mackenzie, with an original screenplay by Taylor Sheridan, also stars Chris Pine and Ben Foster. ChrisJeff16

The American Riviera Award was established to recognize actors who have made a significant contribution to American Cinema. Bridges will join a prestigious group of past recipients, including last year’s honorees Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, and Mark Ruffalo (2016), Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke (2015), Robert Redford (2014), Quentin Tarantino (2013) and Martin Scorsese (2012), Annette Bening (2011), Sandra Bullock (2010), Mickey Rourke (2009), Tommy Lee Jones (2008), Forrest Whitaker (2007), Philip Seymour Hoffman (2006), Kevin Bacon (2005) and Diane Lane (2004).

The 32nd annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival will take place from Wednesday, February 1st through Saturday, February 11th. For more information, and to purchase tickets, festival passes and packages, please visit www.sbiff.org.

BEST JEFF BRIDGES BIO EVER, PS…

HellorHW16

One of Hollywood’s most successful actors and a six-time Academy Award® nominee, JEFF BRIDGES’ (Marcus) performance in “Crazy Heart”—as Bad Blake, the down-on-his-luck, alcoholic country music singer at the center of the drama—deservedly garnered the iconic performer his first Oscar® for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role. The performance also earned him the Golden Globe, SAG Award and the IFP/Spirit Award for Lead Actor.

The film follows Blake, who, through his experiences with a female reporter (Maggie Gyllenhaal), is able to get his career back on track while playing mentor to a hotshot contemporary country star and simultaneously struggling in his shadow. The movie, directed by Scott Cooper, is based on the debut novel by Thomas Cobb and also stars Robert Duvall and Colin Farrell. Bridges’ moving and multi-layered performance is one of many in a career that spans decades.

He earned his first Oscar® nod in 1971 for Best Supporting Actor in Peter Bogdanovich’s “The Last Picture Show,” co-starring Cybill Shepherd. Three years later, he received his second Best Supporting Actor nomination for his role in Michael Cimino’s “Thunderbolt and Lightfoot.” By 1984 he landed top kudos with a Best Actor nomination for “Starman”; that performance also earned him a Golden Globe nomination. In 2001, he was honored with another Golden Globe nomination and his fourth Oscar® nomination for his role in “The Contender,” Rod Lurie’s political thriller, co-starring Gary Oldman and Joan Allen, in which Bridges played the President of the United States.

In December 2010 his reunion with the Coen Brothers in the critically acclaimed western “True Grit” landed him his sixth Oscar® nomination. The film focuses on fourteen-year-old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) whose father has been shot in cold blood by the coward Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), and she is determined to bring him to justice. Enlisting the help of a trigger-happy, drunken U.S. Marshal, Rooster Cogburn (Bridges), she sets out with him — over his objections — to hunt down Chaney.

The same month he was seen in the highly anticipated 3D action-adventure “TRON: Legacy.” Bridges reprised his role of video-game developer Kevin Flynn from the classic 1982 film “TRON.” With state-of-the-art technology, “TRON: Legacy” featured Bridges as the first actor in cinematic history to play opposite a younger version of himself.

He will next be seen in the first animated feature film adaptation of Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s iconic masterpiece “The Little Prince” as the Aviator for director Mark Osborne. He was last seen in the action adventure fantasy film “Seventh Son,” reuniting with Julianne Moore and directed by Sergey Bodrov.

In August 2014, Bridges starred in “The Giver” opposite Meryl Streep, Brenton Thwaites, Alexander Skarsgard, Katie Holmes, Odeya Rush and Cameron Monaghan. Based on the bestselling young adult novel by Lois Lowry, the film – which he also produced – was a passion project of his for more than 2 decades and was directed by Phillip Noyce.

Prior to “Crazy Heart,” Bridges was seen in the war comedy “The Men Who Stare at Goats,” playing Bill Django, a free-spirited military intelligence officer, who is the leader of a secret group of warriors in the army. The Peter Straughan screenplay (based on the Jon Ronson book and directed by Grant Heslov) is based on a true story about a reporter in Iraq, who meets a former member of the US Army’s First Earth Battalion, a unit that employs paranormal powers in their missions. He stars opposite George Clooney (also a producer), Ewan McGregor and Kevin Spacey.

Additionally, he starred in “A Dog Year” for HBO Films/ Picturehouse, based on the memoir by Jon Katz and directed by George LaVoo (who also wrote the screenplay) and garnered an Emmy nomination; as well as opposite Robert Downey, Jr. in the Paramount Pictures/Marvel Studios blockbuster “Iron Man,” playing the character of Obadiah Stane.

He starred opposite Shia LaBeouf as Geek, a cantankerous and washed-up surfer penguin, in the Academy Award®-nominated “Surf’s Up,” from Sony Pictures Animation. Prior to that, he was in his second film for director Terry Gilliam, entitled “Tideland,” where he played Noah, a drug addicted, has-been, rock guitarist.

The actor’s multi-faceted career has cut a wide swathe across all genres. He has starred in numerous box office hits, including Gary Ross’ “Seabiscuit,” Terry Gilliam’s offbeat comedic drama “The Fisher King” (co-starring Robin Williams), the multi-award-nominated “The Fabulous Baker Boys” (co-starring his brother Beau Bridges and Michelle Pfeiffer), “The Jagged Edge” (opposite Glenn Close), Francis Ford Coppola’s “Tucker: The Man and His Dream,” “Blown Away” (co-starring his late father Lloyd Bridges and Tommy Lee Jones), Peter Weir’s “Fearless” (with Isabella Rossellini and Rosie Perez), and Martin Bell’s “American Heart” (with Edward Furlong, produced by Bridges’ company, AsIs Productions). That film earned Bridges an IFP/Spirit Award in 1993 for Best Actor.

In the summer of 2004, he appeared opposite Kim Basinger in the critically acclaimed “The Door in the Floor” for director Todd Williams and Focus Features, which earned him an IFP/Spirit Award nomination for Best Actor.

He played a major featured role in “The Muse” (an Albert Brooks comedy starring Brooks, Sharon Stone and Andie MacDowell); appeared in the suspense thriller “Arlington Road” (co-starring Tim Robbins and Joan Cusack, directed by Mark Pellington); and starred in “Simpatico,” the screen version of Sam Shepard’s play (with Nick Nolte, Sharon Stone and Albert Finney). In 1998, he starred in the Coen brothers’ cult comedy “The Big Lebowski.” Before that, he starred in Ridley Scott’s “White Squall,” Walter Hill’s “Wild Bill,” John Huston’s “Fat City” and Barbara Streisand’s romantic comedy “The Mirror Has Two Faces.”

[Let's not forget the heart-smashing Eastwood starrer Bridges was in in 1974.]

[Let’s not forget the heart-smashing Eastwood starrer Bridges was in in 1974.]

Some of Bridges’ other acting credits include “How to Lose Friends and Alienate People,” “K-PAX,” “Masked and Anonymous,” “Stay Hungry,” “Fat City,” “Bad Company,” “Against All Odds,” “Cutter’s Way,” “The Vanishing,” “Texasville,” “The Morning After,” “Nadine,” “Rancho Deluxe,” “See You in the Morning,” “Eight Million Ways to Die,” “TRON,” “The Last American Hero” and “Heart of the West.”

In 1983, Bridges founded the End Hunger Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to feeding children around the world. He produced the End Hunger televent, a three-hour live television broadcast focusing on world hunger. The televent featured Gregory Peck, Jack Lemmon, Burt Lancaster, Bob Newhart, Kenny Loggins and other leading film, television and music stars in an innovative production to educate and inspire action.

He is currently the national spokesman for the Share Our Strength/No Kid Hungry campaign that is fighting to end childhood hunger in America.

Through his company, AsIs Productions, he produced “Hidden in America,” which starred his brother Beau. That television movie, produced for Showtime, received a Golden Globe nomination in 1996 for Best TV/Cable Film and garnered a Screen Actors Guild nod for Best Actor for Beau Bridges. The film was also nominated for two Emmy Awards.

One of Bridges’ true passions is photography. While on the set of his movies, he takes behind-the-scenes pictures of the actors, crew and locations. After completion of each motion picture, he edits the images into a book and gives copies to everyone involved. Bridges’ photographs have been featured in several magazines, including Premiere and Aperture, as well as in other publications worldwide. He has also had gallery exhibitions of his work in New York (at the George Eastman House), Los Angeles, London and the Museum of Photographic Arts in San Diego. In 2013, Bridges was the recipient of an Infinity Award, presented by the International Center of Photography, NY.

The books, which have become valued by collectors, were never intended for public sale, but in the fall of 2003, powerHouse Books released Pictures: Photographs by Jeff Bridges, a hardcover book containing a compilation of his photographs taken on numerous film locations over the years, to much critical acclaim. Proceeds from the book are donated to the Motion Picture & Television Fund, a nonprofit organization that offers charitable care and support to film-industry workers.

In February 2015 Bridges released a spoken word/ambient album titled “Sleeping Tapes.” The collaboration was co-produced with musician Keefus Ciancia who also supplied the music. The album was released by web hosting service Squarespace as part of its Super Bowl advertising campaign, with all proceeds from the album sales going to Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign.

In August 2011 Bridges released his self-titled major label debut album for Blue Note Records. Multiple-Grammy Award-wining songwriter, musician and producer T Bone Burnett produced the album. It is an organic extension and culmination of his personal, professional and music friendship with Burnett, whom he has known for more than 30 years. The critically acclaimed album was a follow up to his first solo effort “Be Here Soon,” on Ramp Records, the Santa Barbara, CA label he co-founded with Michael McDonald and producer/singer/songwriter Chris Pelonis. The CD features guest appearances by vocalist/keyboardist Michael McDonald, Grammy-nominated Amy Holland and country-rock legend David Crosby. In 2014 he released his first live album “Jeff Bridges & The Abiders Live” and has been touring off and on when he is not working.

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Bridges and his wife Susan divide their time between their home in Santa Barbara, California, and their ranch in Montana.

WHY YOU SHOULD DRIVE/FLY OUT THERE TO ATTEND…

The Santa Barbara International Film Festival is a 501(c)(3) non-profit arts and educational organization dedicated to discovering and showcasing the best in independent and international cinema. Over the past 30 years, SBIFF has become one of the leading film festivals in the United States – attracting 90,000 attendees and offering 11 days of 200+ films, tributes and symposiums, fulfilling their mission to engage, enrich, and inspire the Santa Barbara community through film.

SBIFF continues its commitment to education and the community through free programs like its 10-10-10 Student Filmmaking and Screenwriting Competitions, Mike’s Field Trip to the Movies, National Film Studies Program, AppleBox Family Films, 3rd Weekend and educational seminars. This past June, SBIFF entered a new era with the acquisition of the historic and beloved Riviera Theatre.  The theatre is SBIFF’s new home and is the catalyst for program expansion and marks the first time that Santa Barbara has had a 24/7 community center to expand their mission of educational outreach.

[See HELL OR HIGHWATER via Redbox rentals, VOD and coming soon via streamers. And make sure to catch everything Jeff Bridges has ever been in, including TRON, original and remake, STARMAN, also 1974’s heart-smashing THUNDERBOLT & LIGHTFOOT.]

SCREENMANCER is a gathering place for people who make movies and fans of The Dude, also Jeff Bridges, and his band of musicians in Santa Barbara.

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The Year Nobody Was a Pundit: Hollywood’s Shock, All Governments Lie, But Zero Days & Sparrow Shortlisted

by Quendrith Johnson, Los Angeles Correspondent [FilmFestivals.com]

Cui Bono? That’s the famous Latin line that means “who benefits,” and in the realm of conspiracy theories, this blunt tool ranks right up there with “Historian’s Fallacy” as a go-to. The term historian’s fallacy was minted by Brandeis Professor David Hackett Fischer in 1970, who pointed out the bright idea that even when someone is going through a historic event, or having experienced a historic event, said eyewitness may not have a historical perspective because they have no idea what might hit them next. So since 2016 is The Year Nobody Was a Pundit, as far as the US Presidential Election, and while most of Hollywood is still in shock at the shadow conservative vote in their midst, you’ll forgive a meandering but meaningful segue here into the Oscar Documentary Shortlist and why two films, Zero Days and Hooligan Sparrow, had special resonance. But first, Oliver Stone who executive produced a documentary on investigative journalist, I.F. Stone, directed by Fred Peabody. Unlike Zero Days and Sparrow, this is one that didn’t make the Oscar shortlist, but it’s extremely relevant this year.

unnamed-6Titled ALL GOVERNMENTS LIE: TRUTH, DECEPTION, AND THE SPIRIT OF I.F. STONE, it’s based on the book that examines the influential life of investigative journalist, I.F. Stone “whose long one-man crusade against government deception lives on in the work of such contemporary filmmakers and journalists such as  Amy Goodman, Laura Poitras, Glenn Greenwald, Cenk Uygur, Jeremy Scahill, David Corn, and Matt Taibbi.”

Amy Goodman, as you may know, is the figurehead of Democracy Now, a radio program and media beacon of the American Left that recently stood by the stand-down at the Dakota Access Pipeline. Goodman was even arrested there, but released with charges dropped. Laura Poitras is the filmmaker who brought us CitizenFour, the real-life encounter with Edward Snowden that brought government security to its knees, if only for a moment, while the American Public had their digital eyes peeled open. Glenn Greenwald is her cohort in this endeavor, formerly of the Guardian UK, now of his own media hotspot known as The Intercept. The other names are important, but Matt Taibbi is one journalist who stood firm in dissent as the Donald Trump “Make America Great Again” waves crashed onto voter beachheads. Taibbi is very respected because he stayed up to his ankles in the quick sand of changing poll numbers that made this American US Presidential Election the most highly rated quasi-fiasco in the history of US politics. Election 2016 is the ticket-seller that even Hollywood couldn’t come up with as a plot line: Hamburger Hillary vs The Donald. Initially this match-up looked, as one award-worthy internet troll put it, as “don’t bring a Cheeto to a knife fight” in favor of Hillary Clinton as far as the debates. But a strange thing happened on the way to the ballot box, a swirl of fake news, government reveals, and general discontent took over.

And this is why, although ALL GOVERNMENTS LIE didn’t make anybody’s shortlist, it’s an important film to watch. I.F. Stone’s legacy is the history of dissent in its modern form that we know it. He made his reputation as a journalist by flipping over the hallowed cobblestones of the American Democracy so we could get a view under the sheen of tradition. In fact, in 2015, I.F. Stone’s son Jeremy Stone was behind the release of a Knight Foundation documentary “The Legacy of I.F. Stone” produced out of Canada. According to Glenn Greenwald’s The Intercept, (Greenwald also has a role in this doc) I.F. Stone is known as “The Patron Saint of Bloggers,” and the first known journalist to tap “unofficial sources.”

And here’s where we went collectively, as a voter nation with the rest of the watching-world dragged with us, down a very, very, very long rabbit hole in the 2016 General Election. It was supposed to be a simple contest to determine who would become the next President of the United States, or POTUS in the shorthand. Yet the whole campaign turned into He Said, She Said, fueled by unnamed sources, hacked documents, and purported criminal activity on display.

I.F. Stone’s pioneering “unofficial sources” gambit in the Digital Age became a hellride into inter-party Spy vs Spy, a weltering clash of Anonymous vs Anonymous Global, and a final FBI Director James Comey showdown vs the CIA “counter coup.” Comey is the one whose October Surprise was a November game-changer for the Clinton campaign as it hinted at a 33,000 email-deletion related indictment imminent for her.  Oh wait, he recanted within days. Next, there was even a former US State Department operative, now a sci-fi writer, named Steve Pieczenik who began to leak YouTube videos about the “FBI soft coup” to stop Hillary Clinton, who apparently they’d been tracking for Clinton Foundation fraud, from becoming POTUS. Finally elusive global-hacktivist entity Anonymous really got into the act by flooding YouTube with “Wake Up America” type calls to action to halt the current questions over alleged “Russian” hacking into the US electoral process… exhausting, isn’t it? It’s like everyone on earth and in the media lost the plot in 2016. Even genius poll predictor Nate Silver, who called elections within percentage points in the past, had Donald Trump losing by a 67% chance even as the vote count began.

Again, 2016 is The Year Nobody Was A Pundit. But “unnamed sources” and unsubstantiated allegations, as well as hit videos ruled the day. Although it’s not what was intended by I. F. Stone (no relation to Oliver), this election year is in many ways the slap in the face that Hollywood needed too. When a real life election is more fascinating than any feature film releases on their slate, the Studios can no longer grind out the same rebooted content, folks. People still went to the movie theaters and downloaded filmed content in 2016, but the US Election was beyond gripping – and not in a good way. We’re supposed to be the nation that sets the stage for the much-touted “fair and free elections.” We’re the country that points out the polling stations cheaters in so-called “banana republics,” restores justice when rogue countries go awry and thumbs our nose at humans rights violators with harsh sanctions.

Those very attributes the United States prides itself on came into question in 2016, even the idea that we could shake a fist at corruption in other countries when we ourselves seemed pretty porous as far as scandals from within.

This political preamble is why, in my humble opinion as a critic, two documentaries – Hooligan Sparrow and Zero Days – really mattered on a world-events scale this year. Lynda Weinman and Bruce Heavin, the tech couple behind Lynda.com, an online tutorial empire they have since sold, hosted a very crucial screening of Hooligan Sparrow, a documentary about women’s rights in China that becomes a visual essay on the struggle for human rights and freedoms on a visceral level. Hooligan1sht16

Here’s the official description of the film:

“The danger is palpable as intrepid young filmmaker Nanfu Wang follows maverick activist Ye Haiyan (a.k.a Hooligan Sparrow) and her band of colleagues to Hainan Province in southern China to protest the case of six elementary school girls who were sexually abused by their principal. Marked as enemies of the state, the activists are under constant government surveillance and face interrogation, harassment, and imprisonment. Sparrow, who gained notoriety with her advocacy work for sex workers’ rights, continues to champion girls’ and women’s rights and arms herself with the power and reach of social media.

Filmmaker Wang risks her own life and becomes a target along with Sparrow, as she faces destroyed cameras and intimidation. Yet she bravely and tenaciously keeps shooting, guerrilla-style, with secret recording devices and hidden-camera glasses, and in the process, she exposes a startling number of undercover security agents on the streets. Eventually, through smuggling footage out of the country, Wang is able tell the story of her journey with the extraordinary revolutionary Sparrow, her fellow activists, and their seemingly impossible battle for human rights.”

In covering it earlier this year, I’d asked Nanfu Wang “What is the history of protests in China? And do you think the West influenced this?” Nanfu takes a short breath, she is remarkably composed for someone who literally had to smuggle her footage out of China. “Protests are taboo in China,” she begins. Then she detailed the barriers for giving a proverbial “voice to the voiceless” in her home country. In a modest floral theme red dress, and Nanfu Wang safe in the West, it’s a disconnect to imagine the gritty street fights she’s had to face, even under the pressure of a second language here. Nanfu Wang is definitely someone to watch for more powerful visual essays on film, with Hooligan Sparrow just a first salvo, hopefully.

The connector to the next hugely impactful documentary, Zero Days, is that ripple effect, when an issue for someone like Sparrow’s activist Ye Haiyan ignites a global reaction. In Zero Days, a few watchers on the wall of technology saw something odd, shared it amongst themselves, and didn’t realize they’d discovered the tail of international espionage-made virus that could literally crash the world.

Zero Days is my personal pic for Best Documentary because it reveals the inner workings and internecine fighting going on within the highly insulated and highly secure secret world of CyberSec, including cybersecurity operatives and the divisions between “three letter agencies” which later becomes writ large in the so-called “soft coup” shoot-out between the FBI and the CIA firing back with hacking allegations even you read this. It’s a very dangerous game of Spy Agency vs Spy Agency that has shaken some truly home-grown crazy out of the American woodwork. YouTube is replete with claims and counter-claims of hacking, spying, even purporting to reveal a laundry list of conspiracy theories. Some of these “theories” – from Clinton unspeakable evil-doing to Trump’s Jesus-like magic – make David Aaronvitch’s book “Voodoo Histories, The Role of Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History” look tame. Aaronvitch makes compelling arguments that conspiracy theories actually serve a purpose in the pattern of history as it unfolds… but the 2016 Presidential Election crazy, especially where high-level official discussions and briefings included the possibility of “foreign actors” (read: Russia) hacking Democractic emails, the Election, and the polling machines, well it just went beyond rational human understanding.

Which makes Alex Gibney’s documentary on the events leading to the detection of a computer virus designed to destroy Iran’s nuclear centrifuges in order to sabotage their entire nuclear program, that much more important as an object lesson.

Zero Days stars a range of officials and high-level tech players who unravel the Stuxnet story. Starring Colonel Gary D. Brown, Eric Chien, Richard A. Clarke, General Michael Hayden, Olli Heinonen, Chris Inglis, Vitaly Kamluk, Eugene Kaspersky, Gibney’s “ZERO DAYS is a documentary thriller about the world of cyberwar.” ZeroDaysPoster16

Here’s the official description: “For the first time, the film tells the complete story of Stuxnet, a piece of self-replicating computer malware (known as a “worm” for its ability to burrow from computer to computer on its own) that the U.S. and Israel unleashed to destroy a key part of an Iranian nuclear facility, and which ultimately spread beyond its intended target. ZERO DAYS is the most comprehensive accounting to date of how a clandestine mission hatched by two allies with clashing agendas opened forever the Pandora’s Box of cyber warfare. Beyond the technical aspects of the story, ZERO DAYS reveals a web of intrigue involving the CIA, the US Military’s new cyber command, Israel’s Mossad and Operations that include both espionage and covert assassinations but also a new generation of cyber weapons whose destructive power is matched only by Nuclear War.”

Some of this is a recap from my earlier coverage and interview with Eric Chien this year, but there’s a lot of implied geopolitics embedded here, and again, along with the hacking component, really cements it as my Best Doc pic for 2016. Before seeing ZERO DAYS, it’s critical to understand the US’s former relationship to the Shah of Iran. Before he was deposed, the Shah of Iran received a key first piece of their nuclear program from the US. It was supposed to be used for energy generation, power plants. The Christian Science Monitor did a round-up once that put dates on the whole mess. “In 1967, under the ‘Atoms for Peace’ program launched by President Eisenhower, the US sold the Shah of Iran’s government a 5-megawatt, light-water type reactor… the foundation of Iran’s nuclear power program.” The Shah reigned from Sept. 16, 1941 until Feb. 11, 1979, when he was toppled by the Iranian Revolution. However questionable the Shah’s regime was, it’s axiomatic that something would go wrong once the largely secular world of his rule fell into theological hands as the 1980’s began.

Next things go from theological to zealot by US estimations. And then there’s 9/11. Allegations are Iran is inching its way toward the “bomb,” because it’s not a huge stretch from power-reactor fuel to weapons grade material. You can see why the US government would consider cyber war in the wake of 9/11, especially since the hardware and software for their nuclear program comes mostly from the West (read: a way in via upgrades to the tech). Plus, would anyone ever find out? Someone high up likely gambled on the wrong side of “No.” So malware was secretly engineered, somewhere, to attack the centrifuges at Iran’s Natanz facility.

Alex Gibney’s take on it is, “I started out making a small film investigating ‘Stuxnet…’ What I discovered was a massive clandestine operation involving the CIA, the NSA, the US military and Israel’s intelligence agency Mossad to build and launch secret cyber ‘bombs’ that could plunge the world into a devastating series of… attacks on critical infrastructure, shutting down electricity… this science fiction scenario…”

That’s Alex Gibney for you, outing the whole gamut of international players from “three-letter agencies” to nation states. But then you talk to someone like Eric Chien, Technical Director of Symantec’s Security Technology and Response division, who was among the first handful to discover and name the Stuxnet virus, and it becomes clear that the message of ZERO DAYS is not rehashing old news about the perils of technology. (As in the current alleged Russian election hacking fracas, and the role of governments in controlling infighting among agencies tasked with cyber security.)

Although it is public record that Belorussian engineer Sergey Ulasen was the first responder to the then-unnamed Stuxnet virus as a BSOD (Blue Screen of Death) reboot over there in the Iranian nuke-related nest of computers; the message of this film is really about the knowledge gap between policy makers and digital purveyors, who, at the speed of technology, will reshape the world for us if we don’t watch out.

In person, Eric Chien is incredibly personable, a youthful exemplar of next-generation digital professionals. “We make Norton Anti-Virus,” he begins, to kind of define Symantec. He also apologies that colleague Liam O’Murchu couldn’t make it. “He had his hands on it first,” Chien adds, meaning Stuxnet. “Normally what we do, day-to-day, is we look at the latest (cyber) attacks. About one million a day. A lot of it is handled through automation, which automatically create fixes for them.”

“When we come across some big attacks, we share (with stakeholders)” pieces of the code for others to monitor or give feedback on. “Recently someone tried to transfer $1 BN from the Bank of Bangladesh,” he said, and this discovery brought back some similarities to the adrenaline of the Stuxnet discovery.

Chien mentions the possible government or shadowy players that he’s encountered in untangling the virus. “When you have black motorcycles, wearing all black following you, behind you, you start to wonder.”

On why Stuxnet wasn’t part of the Snowden leak, he casually mentions, “Edward Snowden didn’t leak this because those files are stored on a different server.” Then, ironically, Chien says he is not under an NDA (non-disclosure agreement), because “we don’t have a two-tiered system. We share this information with our clients… we would never work for hostile nations.” Chien reveals that ‘zero-day’ is a term that basically means the virus is discovered at the same time the vulnerability is revealed that makes the exploit even possible. (Think of it as a hole-in-one golf shot, but nobody knew there was a hole there until the ball hit. Now you’ve got two problems.)

“Stuxnet had not one, but four zero-days in it,” he emphasizes, “even one zero day is rare, but four?” This is how “we knew nation states must be involved.” But breaking the code, finding out what this virus was supposed to do “was the needle in the haystack. I mean it had a (kill) date in it, but it was not easy to figure out.” Tying into the election theme, Stuxnet’s “kill date” mysteriously coincided with the 2012 election.

With all the current election brouhaha, the focus on Russia, Chien made a shocking remark that puts Moscow’s capabilities in perspective. “There’s something to be said for obsolesce,” he revealed. “Because when Russia tried to shut down (the gird) in the Ukraine, their technology was so old, they could actually go to each site and crank it back on by hand.” That’s not in Zero Days, but insider terms like Nitro Zeus are, and maybe what’s most important about this film is that it details the bones of contention, the lines of power, and the factions opposed to one another behind the scenes in our government agencies.

And this comes full circle to the opening focus on the current contested election results… agencies are infighting and all we can do is find our own way back up the rabbit hole, back into the reasonable margin of error that Democracy lives by.

A complete list of the Academy’s Best Documentary shortlist for the 89th Academy Award Presentation to be held  February 26, 2017, can be found on www.oscars.org

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Oscar Whiplash Likely for Damien Chazelle’s LA LA Land & Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone

by Quendrith Johnson, Los Angeles Correspondent

Oh, to ruin Award Season… but isn’t that what we’re on earth for? To have our dreams shattered but then our lives uplifted, if only in the movies? Enter LA LA LAND, a singing, dancing act of pure wish fulfillment starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. Wait, a musical? Don’t be fooled. This is classic cinema updated with today’s angst. Stone says “the idea of this really modern story of two artists and dreamers” hooked her immediately. Ryan Gosling admits it was “a secret wish of mine” to make classic musicals.

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LA LA LAND is the latest gift from Harvard-alum Damien Chazelle who brought us that inimitable gem, WHIPLASH. He’s the one who played drums in high school, which inspired the driven core character played by Miles Teller. In 2014, the then newcomer-director made the award show rounds for WHIPLASH. He even found himself seated on stage for AFI Fest with Tilda Swinton, Kristen Stewart, Bill Hader, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Marion Cotillard, plus other famous names. Chazelle seemed already tipped as someone who would make a mark in the movies. This may be the Rhode Island native’s Oscar year as a Best Director contender. This new movie also makes you forget he wrote 10 Cloverfield Lane, the horror thriller, but it’s just gliding on the Oscar that he is a viable screenwriter-for-hire in Hollywood too. (The connective tissue is Chazelle’s interest in demons, one’s own creative demons that drive great performances or in supernatural ones in his love of horror movies.)

AFI Fest 2014, and they already know Chazelle is a star talent.

AFI Fest 2014, and they already know Chazelle is a star talent. Far right, seated beside Marion Cotillard.

Fittingly Chazelle studied Visual and Environmental Studies at Harvard, and LA LA LAND is truly a visual and environmental tableaux as far as eye candy. And of course the casting is stellar. (Does everybody know Ryan Gosling was a Disney Channel kid star with Justin Timberlake? He was.) Chazelle says he considers Gosling and Stone to be like “Bogie and Bacall” and other great screen couples. Consider it Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, Best Screenplay – if in nominations only, if not an outright sweep of the major categories. (Except for Viola Davis, who will take the category, and absolutely dominate, as Best Supporting Actress for FENCES, hopefully.)

LA LA LAND, yes that’s three words not a compound noun as in the pejorative for Los Angeles. Think Everyone Says I Love You by Woody Allen meets Your Favorite Behind the Scenes Classic 30’s Musical. Wait. Think Hamilton-like reboot of a slick, often goofy, cloying even when iconic, genre that just found its authentic swing. That’s what LA LA LAND becomes. Chazelle has a huge advantage because his background is so deep in the nuances and heartbreaking ability of music (i.e.; WHIPLASH) that he tugs the audience along by the ear as well as the eye in this pastel colored “real-life” twinged singing, dancing triumph.

LALA1sht16Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are both “triple threats,” according to J.K. Simmons, who plays Ryan’s boss in this one and also starred with Teller in WHIPLASH (where Simmons picked up a Best Supporting Actor Oscar). Triple threat, for those of you under the age of 40, is Hollywood Golden Age lingo for the rare actors with the triple skills of singing, dancing, and acting. Remember the Dirty Dancing scene in Crazy, Stupid, Love? These two are giving new life to the idea of Silver Screen Super Couple Chemistry where Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper – who promised so much in Silver Linings Playbook – let us down hard lately, ouch in Serena, even in JOY.

Since Gosling and Stone killed it as a love pair in Crazy, Stupid, Love, they are matched like dancing shoes in LA LA LAND… now for the featurette courtesy of Lionsgate.

Here’s the insider story…

Find out more at http://www.lalaland.movie, but see WHIPLASH again in the meantime for the first jazz-musician themed Chazelle movie. LA LA LAND is his second excursion with a strong jazz focused storyline as Ryan Gosling plays a struggling jazz man who keeps running into Emma Stone’s struggling actor character. Coming off her career high in BIRDMAN (Michael Keaton), Emma Stone just keeps getting better and better. And this film makes you believe there is a place for dreaming, even in these cynical times.

LA LA LAND had a limited roll out on Dec. 9 and will no doubt go wider soon as it just received seven Golden Globe nominations, 8 Critics Choice Award nominations, after winning National Board of Review’s Top 10 Films of the Year, and Best Film from New York Film Critics Circle Awards.

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Shusaku Endo’s Novel From 1966 Goes Wide in SILENCE Coming from Scorsese

Since Andrew Garfield has eschewed the red pajamas of blockbuster franchise fronting for Spiderman, he has become a kind of dangling participle of the acting world, meant to modify the mythical noun of Actor but finding nothing in Hollywood to satisfy the life sentence that is the craft. Sounds pretty literary, huh?  Well, enter Martin Scorsese with renown author Shusaku Endo, a Japanese literary titan who died in 1996 at the age of 73, and was practically the only acclaimed novelist from Japan to write from the POV of a Roman CatholicMartySAndyGThe story goes that at age 11, Endo’s Roman Catholic aunt somehow convinced him to be baptized. And what follows is a Japanese glimpse into a conversion world of a Western religion that changes his life as a writer, but moves his story lines through the character perspective of Westerner’s eyes, specifically in the book SILENCE that centers around the travails of Portuguese missionaries circa the 17th century.

Talk about competing spiritual influences, Endo’s 1966 book (now adapted to screen) SILENCE tells the story of two of these Christian missionaries (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) who weather the ultimate test of their faith when they voyage to Japan in search of their missing mentor (Liam Neeson) – at a time when Christianity is outlawed in the 1600’s as mentioned and their presence forbidden.

Imagine it took Scorsese 28 years to develop, fund, and ultimately crank out this film, a spiritual journey into the mind of Shusaku Endo in itself.

Watch for Adam Driver to be very Adam Driver-y, as he imbues his performance with that peculiar talent he possesses, which one hopes won’t possess him someday. And of course Liam Neeson, off the TAKEN money-making treadmill, has a chance to buy back his soul here with what looks to be a phenomenally redemptive performance. Silence1sht

The hashtag is #SilenceMovie; SILENCE slips into theaters December 23, in time for that biggest of Western religious (but now commercial and cloying) holiday celebrations a/k/a Christmas.

Marty Scorses is quite the auteur, reaching into the weeds here for a rare blossom, storytellingwise. How it fits in with the rest of his work, you can figure out from this info graphic from our friends at Graphiq! Happy hunting for a theme, lol.

Find SILENCE on Facebookhttps://www.facebook.com/silencemovie or http://www.silencemovie.com/

 

SCREENMANCER is a gathering place for people who make movies and have religious differences without arguments.

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Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner Go Viral for ARRIVAL in Toronto Now

SCREENMANCER TIFF ALERT: As if there aren’t enough reasons to love Amy Adams, or, as if there is anyone in Hollywood who can find a reason not to adore pro Amy Adams, her arrival for ARRIVAL in Toronto is about to go viral as we show the fan-friendly star shining brightest with her co-stars on the red carpet up at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival).

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And what is ARRIVAL? Distributed by Paramount, the new release set for Nov. 11 stars Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner. You’ll love cast of Denis Villeneuve‘s ARRIVAL in Toronto with these curated red carpet sneaks.

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Michael Stuhlbarg too, with Jeremy Renner & You Know Who…

Things to remember…

ARRIVAL Logline is: When mysterious spacecraft touch down across the globe, an elite team – lead by expert linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) – are brought together to investigate. As mankind teeters on the verge of global war, Banks and the team race against time for answers – and to find them, she will take a chance that could threaten her life, and quite possibly humanity.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ArrivalMovie/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/arrivalmovie

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/arrivalmovie/

#WhyAreTheyHere

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SCREENMANCER is a gathering place for people who make movies, UFOs & adore Amy Adams.

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MADE IN LA

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