Entertainment Industry

Category: 20th Century Fox

Meet David the android from Ridley Scott's upcoming 'Prometheus'

Months before the release of director Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus,” the studio behind his big-budget science-fiction film has been building buzz online with an unorthodox campaign.

Aside from traditional movie trailers, 20th Century Fox has been carefully introducing the film’s major characters (and a bit of back story) through a series of online videos -- including one debuting today that features actor Michael Fassbender ("Shame") in an eerily deadpan performance as an android named David. He serves as the butler and maintenance man on the ship Prometheus, which transports a team of explorers searching for clues to the origins of mankind.

The 2:30-minute video debuted on Yahoo and Mashable and was picked up by more than 60 film, technology enthusiasts and news sites. It's the latest installment in a digital marketing campaign that has turned to unusual venues -- including this spring’s TED conference in Long Beach -- to build awareness for the June 8 theatrical release.

That initial video, screened Feb. 28 for those who attended the technology, entertainment and design gathering, featured a speech on robotics by Peter Weyland, the industrialist portrayed in the movie by actor Guy Pearce. His mock TEDTalk extolled a future inhabited by "cybernetic individuals who, in just a few short years, will be completely indistinguishable from us."

Tom Rielly, community director of the TED conferences, said the group was approached by one of "Prometheus' " writers and executive producers (whose credits include "Lost" and "Star Trek") about the possibility of creating a TEDTalk video from the future -- 2023 to be precise. The conference participated in imagining how these presentations might evolve, including suggesting the flying cameras and real-time Twitter-like feeds depicted in the short film.

" 'Prometheus' got attention, and we got millions of new people visiting TED.com who had never been," Rielly said via email. "It was a perfect partnership, untouched by money or contracts, but instead built on the power of a great idea. When I had the opportunity to collaborate with a dream team and three of my favorite creatives in the film world, I grabbed it unreservedly, and, to boot, we had so much fun working together."

Oren Aviv, the studio's chief marketing officer, said the TED conference screening gave Fox a high-profile platform from which to talk about "Prometheus" to fans of director Scott's films, as well as non-fans who would be intrigued by the picture's futuristic setting.

"When the second trailer came out [in March], Google called us and told us ... that the trailer became the No. 1-most viewed video in the world," Aviv said. "The point is it’s all connected. These don't happen independently. It’s designed to be part of this transmedia effort. It gives people a chance to explore and share and discuss and never ruin the movie."

The David video is similarly attracting attention online as it introduces a next-generation robot from the film's fictional Weyland Corp.

An unseen narrator poses questions to Fassbender's character, in which he describes his capabilities, "I can do almost anything that could possibly be asked of me. I can assist your employees. I can make your organization more efficient. I can carry out directives that my human counterparts might find (pause) distressing or unethical."

David professes to understand human emotion, even if he does not experience feelings himself. "This allows me to be more efficient and capable -- and makes it easier for my human counterparts to interact with me." 

"Fassbender's performance, moving his head less than a real human would, or carefully orchestrating that single tear for emotions he doesn't feel, sells David as a robot almost instantly," entertainment site Cinema Blend wrote.

Tony Sella, Fox studio's chief creative officer, said these videos were conceived outside of the film itself, as a form of standalone entertainment which, like "Prometheus," is "this unraveling mystery." The viral campaign is designed to build enthusiasm for the movie among science-fiction buffs and fans of Scott's earlier hits including "Blade Runner" and "Alien," before promoting the movie to a general audience.

"Before we started shooting, we started talking about this," Sella said. "Ridley shared this vision too. He wanted [to do this] in stages ... so that we could build all these levels of awareness. When we go ahead and spend our advertising money on TV spots for the general public, there was this fabric already built."

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-- Dawn C. Chmielewski

Fox Digital stakes out Web territory with 'Wolfpack'

Fox Digital Entertainment has joined the growing pack of companies creating high-quality content for the Internet. The 2-year-old unit of 20th Century Fox movie studio this week released its first made-for-the-Web series called "Wolfpack of Reseda."

The 12-minute inaugural episode revolves around Ben March, a hapless car insurance salesman (played by Tate Ellington), whose life is transformed when he thinks he had been bitten by a werewolf at a San Fernando Valley park. The show, which consists of eight episodes with a new one released each Thursday, is something of a dark comedy.

"The key challenge in this space is the storytelling," said Matt Glotzer, senior vice president at Fox Digital Entertainment. "And then the challenge becomes about breaking the show. How do you make sure people see it?"

Fox Digital turned to Myspace, which is trying to transform itself, as its primary distributor. Myspace plans to create its own content, acquire other series and become something of a digital "farm system" to find new talent.

Kia Motors America is sponsoring the series. Tim Chaney, Kia's director of marketing communications, said the car company was attracted by the show's transformational theme. The story line felt like a good fit for its funky Kia Soul vehicle, he said.

The emergence of Fox Digital Entertainment and "Wolfpack of Reseda," highlights the trend of major media players stepping up their game when it comes to creating Web content. Online video has become the fastest-growing advertising segment, according to eMarketer Digital Intelligence. 

"Marketing and advertising is about going to where the eyeballs are, and increasingly those eyeballs are online," said Rebecca Lieb, media analyst with the Altimeter Group.

Read the full story in the Los Angeles Times.

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-- Meg James

 

Box Office: 'Mission: Impossible' sequel is No. 1 Christmas pick [Updated]

"Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol" was the No 1 film at the box office this weekend
Moviegoers chose to accept Tom Cruise's "Mission" at the box office this weekend.

"Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol," the fourth installment in the action franchise, grossed $46.2 million over the holiday period beginning Friday and ending Monday, according to an estimate from distributor Paramount Pictures. The movie -- budgeted at about $145 million -- debuted in limited release 11 days ago and has since racked up an impressive total of $78.6 million in ticket sales.

Warner Bros.' "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows," which opened last weekend, claimed the No. 2 spot. The $125-million production collected a soft $31.8 million over the long weekend, bringing its overall tally to $90.6 million. Twentieth Century Fox's $80-million "Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked," which has also been in theaters for two weeks, came in with a disappointing $20 million. Both movies were expected to be big winners over the Christmas holiday, but each is so far lagging significantly behind their franchise predecessors in ticket sales.

David Fincher's highly anticipated "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" -- based on the first book in a trilogy of novels by Swedish author Stieg Larsson -- did decent business. The Sony Pictures movie opened Tuesday night, but grossed $19.4 million over the holiday weekend, raising its overall total to $27.7 million. The R-rated film had a budget of about $100 million, according to an individual close to the production, though a Sony spokesperson said the cost was $90 million.

Two new films directed by Steven Spielberg debuted to mixed results.

"The Adventures of Tintin," a 3-D animated family movie adapted from a popular Belgian comic book, did not prove exceptionally popular with American audiences. Although the film has been a hit overseas, so far collecting over $240 million abroad, it only grossed $16.1 million domestically this long weekend. Since opening on Wednesday, "Tintin," which cost Paramount and Sony between $150 million and $175 million to make, has sold $24.1 million worth of tickets. Paramount, which is releasing the film in the U.S. and Canada, is hopeful that the movie will follow in the footsteps of last Christmas' "Yogi Bear." That family flick ultimately grossed over $100 million domestically.

Meanwhile, Spielberg's epic "War Horse" fared better, debuting on Sunday and grossing $15 million in sales over two days. The film attracted an older audience, 31% of whom were over the age of 50. Those who saw the $70-million DreamWorks production liked it, assigning it an average grade of A-, according to market research firm CinemaScore.

Cameron Crowe's "We Bought a Zoo" earned an even better grade -- an A -- but moviegoers did not show up in as large numbers to see the family drama. The movie starring Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson, which cost Fox about $50 million to produce, opened on Friday and grossed $15.6 million through Monday. The film also appealed to an older demographic, as 59% of the crowd was age 25 or above, while 58% overall was female.

Of all the movies that opened over Christmas, the horror film "The Darkest Hour" was the least expensive, costing co-financiers Summit Entertainment and New Regency about $30 million to produce. That's good news, because it only grossed a weak $5.5 million over Sunday and Monday, and received a dismal C+ CinemaScore.

[Updated 1:45 p.m., Dec. 26: The "Mission: Impossible" sequel continued to soar overseas, grossing an additional $43 million from 45 foreign countries. The movie performed best in Korea and China, where it was No. 1 for the second weekend in a row. The film has now made about $24 million in each country respectively. Overall, the movie already has an international tally of $140 million. The third film in the franchise raked in over $260 million abroad in 2006, and it seems likely that the new fourth installment will far exceed that figure.

Here are the top 10 movies in the U.S. and Canada, based on their four-day grosses with exceptions as noted. Percentage drops are based on three-day grosses. International grosses are through Sunday only.

Continue reading »

News Corp. profits fall as hacking scandal continues to take toll

Rupert Murdoch reads the last edition of the News of the World tabloid

The British phone hacking scandal continues to take its toll on News Corp.

The media conglomerate on Wednesday reported a 5% drop in its fiscal first-quarter earnings, as News Corp. incurred $91 million in charges associated with shutting down its News of the World tabloid in London that has been at the center of the scandal.

News Corp. also incurred $130 million in "other" charges, which include the costs of dropping its bid to acquire 100% of satellite broadcaster British Sky Broadcasting.

Taken together, these charges eroded the company's net income, which fell to $738 million or 28 cents a share, compared with $775 million or 30 cents a share for the same period last year. Meanwhile, revenue grew to $7.96 billion for the quarter that ended Sept. 30, up 7% from a year earlier because of double-digit growth from the company's cable and film groups.

The cable network group, which includes the FX network and Fox News, remains News Corp.'s primary revenue generator. It produced operating income of $775 million for the quarter, up 18% from a year earlier; reflecting higher advertising revenue and higher fees paid by cable, satellite and telecommunications companies for the rights to distribute Fox's cable networks.

News Corp.'s film group reported a 24% increase in operating income for the quarter to $347 million, fueled by the  performance of "Rise of the Planet of the Apes," which grossed more than $450 million in box-office receipts and home entertainment sales of the animated release "Rio" and "X-Men: First Class."

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— Dawn C. Chmielewski

Photo of Rupert Murdoch reading the final issue of the News of the World tabloid. Credit: Frank Doran / Rex Features

 

 

 

 

Protesters angry at News Corp. push for Rupert Murdoch ouster

Protest2This post has been corrected. See the note at the bottom for details

As News Corp.'s annual shareholders meeting got underway Friday, about 125 vocal activists gathered in front of 20th Century Fox studio, calling for the resignation of Rupert Murdoch and railing against the media giant's mishandling of the phone hacking scandal.

The protest was marked by some of the same messages that have become the hallmark of the Occupy Wall Street movement, but the overarching theme that emerged was that there were crooks in power and it was time to make a change.

"We are here on the general premise that what News Corp. and Wall Street are doing are very related," said 22-year-old Blaine O'Neill, who has been camping with Occupy L.A.

"Money speaks louder than anything else, and the message that gets out is dominated by corporate interests and not much else," O'Neill said.

"My mom raised us well," added his 16-year-old sister, Ellie. "So since birth I've known not to trust the 1% who report news on the 99%."

Occupy L.A., which organized buses to ship its members from their encampment at City Hall to the Century City studio, was joined by other activist groups, including Avaaz.org, MoveOn and Common Cause, carrying signs with such slogans as, "Gotta beat back the Fox attack," "This is what democracy looks like," and "We are the 99%."

Key organizer Brianna Cayo-Cotter from Avaaz, who came down from San Francisco for the protest and was wearing a black "Fire the Murdoch Mafia" T-shirt, explained the goal of the morning: "The Murdochs have turned News Corp. into a global criminal enterprise," she said.

"And with the shareholders meeting, people from around the world are calling on them to be fired. They have been irresponsible in running one of the most powerful media companies in the world and that's dangerous for democracy and the public good."

As she spoke, protesters circled with signs reading, "I am not your ATM," "Rich Media = Poor Democracy," "People B4 profit," and "Fox and Friends Stink." Another protester -- the only one sporting a smart business suit -- waved at passing traffic wearing a giant papier-mâché Rupert Murdoch head with a distinctly Nixon-esque nose.

Protest1Getting the Murdochs to step down is admittedly a Herculean effort, said Avaaz's Cayo-Cotter. Avaaz said members from around the world have been calling News Corp. shareholders leading up to Friday's meeting to express their displeasure with the company's direction in the wake of both the News of the World phone hacking scandal and recent allegations that the European edition of the Wall Street Journal used questionable tactics to boost circulation figures.

"Corporate irresponsibility and bad governance have run amok," she said, "and what happened in the UK is just the tip of the iceberg."

Standing nearby, Anjuli Kronheim from Common Cause nodded in agreement and added, "We're here to ask News Corp. to stop spending in the next election cycle."

The latter was a sentiment shared by a number of liberal protesters who dislike the power they perceive the predominantly conservative company has over politicians and politics.

"I'm here because I dislike the Republicans and I dislike Rupert Murdoch," said Pearl Karon, an older woman with neat white hair. "And apathy is our worst enemy -- and their best weapon."

Despite the fiery rhetoric, the protest remained peaceful and contained, with most of the group leaving around 10:30 a.m. on a bus.

"We'll be back! We'll be back!" they chanted as they headed toward the luxurious green turf of Rancho Park Golf Course.

-- Jessica Gelt

[For the record, 1:29 p.m.: An earlier version of this post incorrectly referred to Rancho Park Golf Course as Rancho Mirage Park.]

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Photos, from top: A mask-wearing protester outside of the 20th Century Fox lot during News Corp.'s annual meeting; Dave Saldana, communications director of the organization Free Press, during the protest. Credit: Jessica Gelt / Los Angeles Times

Fox strikes licensing deal with Amazon to stream movies, TV shows

The Amazon-Fox deal adds about 2,000 films and television shows from its library to Amazon.com's instant streaming service.

News Corp.'s 20th Century Fox has reached a licensing deal that adds about 2,000 films and television shows from its library to Amazon.com's instant streaming service, bringing to 11,000 the number of titles available through Amazon Prime.

Amazon Prime members, who pay a $79 annual fee, gain  commercial-free access to such films as "Mrs. Doubtfire," "9 to 5" and "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," as well as older television series including "24," "The X-Files" and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."

Consumers who are not Amazon Prime members can rent or purchase movies and TV shows from Amazon through its Instant Video stream service, at prices that start at $3.99 for new releases. Amazon offers more than 100,000 new and older titles through its paid service.

The online retailer is beefing up its catalog as it seeks to compete with Netflix, which just secured the rights to stream DreamWorks Animation films. Amazon has secured licensing deals with CBS, NBCUniversal, Sony and Warner Bros.

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-- Dawn C. Chmielewski

Photo: Matthew Lawrence, left, Lisa Jakub, Robin Williams, Mara Wilson and Sally Field in "Mrs. Doubtfire." Credit: Phil Bray

Disney to announce deal for 'Avatar' theme park attractions

Photo: A scene from "Avatar." Credit: WETA / 20th Century Fox.The Walt Disney Co. is set to announce a major licensing deal to bring "Avatar" attractions to its theme parks, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.

The Burbank entertainment giant has secured the rights from 20th Century Fox movie studio, which released the 2009 blockbuster, and director James Cameron's Lightstorm Entertainment.

For Disney, the deal is significant because it usually relies on in-house content for its attractions. "Avatar," the highest grossing movie of all time, is expected to become a major component at various Disney parks, with the first such attraction debuting at Disney World in Orlando, Fla., said the source.

The two other major attractions that Disney parks based on non-Disney movies are "Indiana Jones" and "Star Wars."

Landing "Avatar" is a huge coup for Disney, which missed out on securing the rights to the "Harry Potter" franchise, which went to Comcast's Universal Studios theme park in Florida and is a wildly successful attraction.

Like "Harry Potter," Disney is expected to create a whole experience around "Avatar," the hit movie about humans colonizing an alien moon. Cameron is expected to be heavily involved with Disney on designing the attractions.

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-- Claudia Eller and Joe Flint

Photo: A scene from "Avatar." Credit: WETA / 20th Century Fox.

Rupert Murdoch's L.A. dinner featured steak -- but not hacking

Rupe3 
 
It's a summer tradition at News Corp. Top Los Angeles-based entertainment executives, along with their spouses, mingle with members of the company's board of directors for an elegant dinner at Chief Executive Rupert Murdoch's Benedict Canyon home.

The affair -- held Monday night at Murdoch's mansion, once owned by MCA founder Jules Stein -- always occurs the evening before the summer board meeting in Los Angeles.

And this year, there were as many hot seats as hot dishes.

News Corp. has seen its market value tumble during the last month in the wake of the British phone hacking scandal. The crisis has put a dark cloud over the company and its management. News Corp. last month shuttered its 168-year-old News of the World tabloid and withdrew its planned $12-billion purchase of the remaining shares of British Sky Broadcasting, the region's top pay-television provider. Two senior executives, sullied by the scandal, stepped down. More than 10 people in Britain have been arrested.

Probes of News Corp. activities have been launched by governments in both Britain and the United States. James Murdoch, often mentioned as the heir apparent to his father to eventually run the company, has been tarnished by the mess.  James Murdoch, who has been responsible for News Corp.'s European operations since 2007, approved large settlements to several victims of the phone hacking -- a decision he has said he now regrets because he had insufficient information.

Meanwhile, some investors have demanded action by News Corp.'s board.  They have complained that several of the independent directors are not as independent from Rupert Murdoch as they should be. 

For example, a key independent director is Viet Dinh, a Georgetown University law professor who served in former President George W. Bush's Justice Department, is the godfather of a son of Lachlan Murdoch,  Rupert Murdoch's oldest son.  Dinh oversees the company's internal review of the phone hacking scandal, which was expected to be discussed at Tuesday's board meeting.

The menu Monday night included steak, a vegetarian dish and perhaps a little avoidance.

Rupert Murdoch thanked everyone for attending, according to people present.

The 80-year-old patriarch, who hosted the dinner along with wife Wendi Deng, then expressed his gratitude to the spouses for putting up with the long hours and hard work that their mates must put in to be part of the News Corp. family. 

But Murdoch only briefly mentioned his British troubles.  He said the problems were isolated to one part of the company  -- and had no effect on the whole.

James Murdoch, who serves on the board and is deputy chief operating officer, was in attendance, as were more than a dozen executives who run key News Corp. operating units, including News Corp. Chief Operating Officer Chase Carey and Chief Financial Officer David DeVoe.

Other News Corp. executives who attended included: Fox Entertainment Chairman Peter Rice; 20th Century Fox Television Studio Co-Chairmen Gary Newman and Dana Walden: Fox Entertainment President Kevin Reilly; 20th Century Fox Film Production President Emma Watts; Fox Sports Chairman David Hill; Fox Sports Vice Chairman Ed Goren; Fox Sports co-Presidents Eric Shanks and Randy Freer; Twentieth Television President Greg Meidel; and the company's chief human resources officer, Beryl Cook.  Communications executives Teri Everett and Julie Henderson were on hand.

It was unclear whether Wendi Deng served pie for dessert.

-- Joe Flint and Meg James

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Photo: Rupert Murdoch. Credit: Louis Lanzano / Associated Press 

Peter Chernin unveils movies, TV shows -- but continues to stalk Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley holds a certain allure for Peter Chernin.

The former News Corp. president, who started his own entertainment company two years ago, has been investing in promising technology ventures that could upset the media status quo.

PeterChernin2011 Chernin has experience in this realm. An architect of the online video service Hulu -- whose popularity has created conflicts for traditional broadcast networks -- he advocated making TV shows available for free.

That has become an increasingly unpopular stand in companies like News Corp., which owns Hulu with media giants Walt Disney Co. and NBCUniversal.

More recently, Chernin has made a handful of investments in technology firms. His Santa Monica company, the Chernin Group, has taken stakes in Pandora Media Inc., the Internet radio provider; Fullscreen Inc., a digital media start-up; and Flipboard Inc., which makes software that displays photos and text posted on social networks as a digital magazine on the iPad.

Chernin also has been approached by investors weighing a possible acquisition of Yahoo Inc.

The investor group continues to be interested in buying the portal, which has been the No. 1 website in the U.S. for more than six months and operates the top sites in 12 publishing categories, including finance, news, sports and entertainment lifestyle.

Yahoo's current chief executive, Carol Bartz, has been criticized by investors for her overall business strategy.

As part of their plan, Chernin would play a leading role in Yahoo's management, according to two people familiar with the ongoing discussions. He could be chairman of the board or chief executive.

The former position would make it possible for him to continue running his film and television production operation, which is funded by News Corp.

That venture, Chernin Entertainment, is poised to premiere its first high-profile film and television projects.  "Rise of the Planet of the Apes," which hits theaters Aug. 5, will reprise the 1960s-era science fiction franchise that has been in development at News Corp.'s Fox movie studio for years. "Terra Nova," which is shaping up to be one of the most expensive TV shows ever, will land on the Fox network Sept. 26.

Hollywood is watching to see whether Chernin, 60, will deliver an equally powerful encore to his 12-year tenure overseeing the film, television and digital businesses of Rupert Murdoch’s sprawling media conglomerate News Corp. Chernin spent two decades working for Murdoch.

-- Dawn C. Chmielewski, Ben Fritz and Meg James

Photo of Peter Chernin; Credit: Paul Buck / EPA

What's next for Hulu?

Jason kilar

News Corp., Walt Disney Co. and NBCUniversal have been wrestling for more than a year over what to do with their unruly online progeny Hulu.

The answer emerged this week: sell the popular and problematic Internet video site.

But why now?

Analysts said the media owners couldn't help but notice Wall Street's enthusiasm for the initial stock offerings of social media site LinkedIn and the anticipated public offerings of Facebook and couponing service Groupon.

“The capital markets are wide open, there is asset value in Hulu today, and it will last as long as the distribution rights are extended," said Jordan Rohan, a media analyst with Stifel Nicolaus & Co.  In addition, he noted, "Yahoo and other major companies have discovered that the high-end online video space is incredibly valuable, and it always will be."

There could be another explanation too.  For months, Hulu's chief architect, Chief Executive Jason Kilar, has been lobbying for greater autonomy to operate Hulu as a fast-moving Internet venture, independent of the entertainment conglomerates that are beholden to their traditional businesses.

The media companies' priority has been to preserve their lucrative relationships with cable, satellite and telecommunications companies, which pay $30 billion annually for the right to distribute TV shows to subscribers. That sum dwarfs the $500 million in revenue that Hulu is projecting to bring in this year.

In addition, Providence Equity Partners, which initially contributed $100 million to seed Hulu, probably is looking for a way to recoup its investment.

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