Ben Stiller, Kate Winslet and a penguin

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Good morning: In today’s edition of The Industry, we look at:

Ben Stiller unsevered, Kate Winslet’s autocrat, Michael Mann’s math, Gus Van Sant’s swans and some not-so-holiday snow.

Let’s go!


BEN STILLER UNSEVERED

Ben Stiller had one of the most dramatic career shifts in all of Hollywood.

He ignited the screen with his pitch perfect 90s-2000s comedy, playing zany, heartfelt, childishly innocent characters like in Zoolander, Meet the Fockers and Night at the Museum before transitioned to more serious roles by 2017 (The Meyerowitz Stories, Brad’s Status).

And then he shifted to directing TV.

First with Showtimes’ Escape at Dannemora (2018) a gritty prison escape drama starring Paul Dano and Benicio Del Toro and then six episodes of Apple TV+’s acclaimed Severance (2022), about a man who has his work and home memories surgically separated.

Stiller discussed his fascination with show’s premise:

“Where are these people? Who are they? What are they doing? They don’t know. They don’t know they’re kind of living this life and, you know, speaking in this sort of rhythm and making these workplace comedy jokes, but they don’t know who they are or where they are or why they’re there or what they’re doing. And that, that, that general idea to me is sort of like, well, that’s kind of like, you know, life.”

The auto-pilot workplace dystopia feels like an apt metaphor for Stiller cranking out facsimile blockbuster entertainment.

After a six year acting hiatus (although he’s dropped in for the occasional bit role), he’s starring in the upcoming Nutcrackers.

Here’s the official synopsis:

Nutcrackers follows the work-obsessed Mike (Stiller), who must reluctantly travel to rural Ohio to look after his four rambunctious nephews after their parents die in a car accident. What begins as a three-day trip to find foster care turns into weeks of farm-life mayhem — and the realization that he doesn’t need to find them a home, they’ve found one for him.

The film is billed as a comedy-drama.

It remains to be seen if this movie will rekindle his taste for acting, or if he will continue to push himself to direct increasingly higher-concept projects.

For More:

Ben Stiller directing on set of Severance. BTS photo.

Ben Stiller’s first directing effort Reality Bites (1994) puts him in a love triangle with Wionna Ryder and Ethan Hawke (trailer).

Zoolander, Magnum (clip).


THE INDUSTRY NEWS

Paramount and Warner Bros. Discovery – possible merger. The CEOs of each company, David Zaslav (WBD) and Bob Bakish (Paramount), met briefly on Tuesday, although they have not officially corroborated their interest in merging. If they decide to move forward, the unison between the two companies, which would value the new entity at $38B with a combined $61B in debt, will present major legal challenges.

The current administration is likely to perceive the Paramount Warner Discovery merger not as a move towards better content and lower prices for consumers, but rather as a strategy to reduce employee wages and increase prices.

Two weeks ago the CEO of Adobe explained that he wanted to acquire an up and coming rival Figma:

“[We want to] usher in a new era of collaborative creativity.”

Regulators saw it differently and enforced anti-trust laws.

That’s not to say it can’t be done, and there’s a good argument that the new Paramount Warner Discovery would serve as better competition to the monolithic Amazon and Netflix.

Barry Diller (IAC) thinks it’s a fool’s errand:

“Apple and Amazon Prime are in completely different businesses that have no business model relative to production of movies and television, it’s just something they do to support Prime or something they do to support their walled garden at Apple… Now, out of consolidation, these businesses are so down the ladder from where they were, that I think they have in various ways atrophied.”

Potentially, the best thing for consumers would be if these companies remained separated but bundled their content together.

Byron Allen just offered Paramount $3.5B for BET. Back in March, Paramount was exploring a sale of BET, which they acquired in 2000 for $2.3 billion. At the time, Allen made an offer, but Paramount didn’t think it would generate enough income. Although Paramount has been struggling financially, and the fate of the company is uncertain, the possible merger with Warner Discovery may change their desire to sell individual assets.


THE ACTOR SPOTLIGHT

Jonathan Pryce and a penguin. Pryce is best known for his role as the James Bond villain Elliot Carver, the CEO of the delectably diabolical media company that was equally interested in reporting global calamities as it was in creating them.

He’s also been outstanding in:

He’s gearing up for The Penguin Lessons, a new film with Steve Coogan (Alan Partridge, Philomena, 24 Hour Party People).

The official logline reads:

Follows the story of an Englishman (Coogan) who was disappointed after going to work in a school in Argentina, but his life changes after he finds a small penguin who becomes his friend and teacher of life’s most important lessons.

No word on who Pryce plays, but it’s definitely not the penguin.

Filming has just wrapped in Spain. CAA is handling US rights. 42 (The Courier, starring Benedict Cumberbatch) is producing.

Kate Winslet has hermetically sealed herself in The Regime. In the trailer, she’s created a world where, as the authoritarian leader of an unnamed country, her underlings bow to her requests, shielding her from criticism. Winslet insulates herself so tightly that there are literal sequences in the trailer of her sealed in an air-tight hospital gurney.

This HBO series, premiering on March 3rd, is the successor to Mare of Easttown, her first series from the streamer. Her prickly, no-nonsense, corporeal performance as the titular character is enthralling (trailer).

Kate Winslet has always prioritized complex characters over stardom, so it’s great to see another HBO show receive her mark of validation.


FESTIVALS AND AWARDS

The first six films of the Berlin International Film Festival have been announced:

Official Synopsis: A 17-year-old girl is forced to move with her family to a resort where things are not what they seem.

Official Synopsis: This film chronicles a year in the life of a singular family. Captures the daily life of the Sasquatch with a detail and rigor that is simply unforgettable.

Official Synopsis: An earnest theater director has the task of remounting her former mentor’s most famous work, the opera Salome. Some disturbing memories from her past will allow her repressed trauma to color the present.

Jakub Procházka, orphaned as a boy and raised in the Czech countryside by his grandparents, overcomes his odds to become the country’s first astronaut.

It’ll be interesting to see if any of these films, most likely the flashiest of the festival, will capture the top honor, The Golden Bear.

Berlinale will take place Feb 15, 2024 – Feb 25, 2024.

The Oscars shortlist for the following categories:

  • International Film
  • Documentary Feature Film
  • Documentary Short Film
  • Makeup and Hairstyling
  • Music (Original Score)
  • Music (Original Song)
  • Animated Short Film
  • Live Action Short Film
  • Sound
  • Visual Effects

Can be found here.


TECH SECTION

Michael Mann’s mathematical perfection. Mann has a fascination with cars, whether it’s shooting them to bits in Heat or creating seventeen different versions of the Taxi cab featured in Collateral to capture a wide array of angles and lighting qualities.

In Ferrari (trailer), out Christmas day, Mann went even further and used 3D lidar scans of original Ferraris (valued at $10M+) to create the replicas:

“It began with the LiDAR scan. That went into a CAD computer program, and we then reverse engineered the design of the tubular chassis. Into the tubular chassis we built hard mount points so that I could penetrate through the skin of the car and attach tracking camera systems to the actual chassis.”

When it came to the high-speed races, Mann didn’t want to use VFX. His DP Erik Messerschmidt (The Killer) explained:

“Michael was not interested in shooting the car at 50 miles an hour and then playing all the camera tricks to make it look like it’s going a hundred. He was interested in shooting the cars at 100 miles an hour. There are safety challenges and camera rigging concerns. We had to build the cars and the camera rigs so that they could sustain G forces and vibration.”

Mann’s obsession with verisimilitude has elevated his films to contain some of the most classic action sequences in cinema. Read more about Mann’s obsession with realism on the Ferrari shoot here.


INDIE FILMMAKER SPOTLIGHT

Gus Van Sant’s swans. For two decades, Van Sant showcased his immense ability to create complex, troubled, and authentic characters, adeptly guiding seasoned actors to win their first Oscar, as well as nurturing up-and-coming actors:

Recently, his films have received a far less positive reception (Sea of Trees, Don’t Worry He Won’t Get Far on Foot).

His latest project is a Hulu series based on the socialites in Truman Copte’s inner circle.

The teaser for Feud: Capote vs. the Swans does little else than tease the show’s talent: Susan Sarandon, Jessica Lange, Naomi Watts, Chloë Sevigny, Demi Moore, and Molly Ringwald.

Van Sant is ready for a resurgence, and with this talented group, this may just be the vehicle for him.

James Gray explores JFK’s early days. Gray, whose sentimental filmmaking reached its zenith with the space opera Ad Astra (2019), is making a new film, May Day 109.

The official synopsis reads:

John F. Kennedy’s PT boat comes under attack by a Japanese warship in World War II.

Bill Skarsgård (IT, John Wick 4) is rumored to star as a young JFK.

Gray is a critically divisive filmmaker, but he’s been nominated for the Cannes Palm d’Or five times (although never won) and developed a growing cult fanbase.


INTERNATIONAL NEWS

Proposed UK property tax hurts Hollywood studios. In a pivotal moment for the UK film industry, major studios like Pinewood and Warner Bros. Studios Leavesden (Warner’s UK studio) are entering critical negotiations with the Valuation Office Agency (VOA). Drastic increases to property tax may be imposed:

  • Pinewood: £3.95M to £16.2M
  • Warner Bros: £5M to £25M

These changes, set to commence in April, have alarmed industry leaders who fear the hikes could undermine the UK’s thriving £6.3B production sector. They argue that higher rates will inflate production costs, making the UK less attractive for film and TV projects and potentially stifling investment in new facilities.

Amidst these concerns, the British Film Commission (BFC) is working with studios to find a resolution.

International Feature Film Oscars Shortlist. 15 out of the 88 countries that submitted films will advance:

Society of the Snow (trailer) has gotten some recent buzz about being the front runner. And for good reason. The trailer is the rawest survival film we’ve seen in a long time.


ON THIS DAY

1967. The Graduate, American comedy-drama film directed by Mike Nichols, starring Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft, premieres (Best Director, 1968).


Happy Holidays!

We’re off for a few days. See you back later next week.


Written by Gabriel Miller. Research by Spencer Carter.

Edited by Gabriel Miller.

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