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King Kong monkeys around in Dodger Stadium

King Kong tramples Dodgers Stadium Angelenos know a few things about natural disasters.

Earthquakes, mud slides and wildfires are almost as routine as the change of seasons in the City of Angels.

But what appeared to be another catastrophe at Dodger Stadium Tuesday morning (see photo) was a publicity stunt by Universal Studios Hollywood to promote the new King Kong attraction that opens in early July.

The giant ape footprints that begin near home plate and disappear behind center field are part of a series of attention-grabbing events to promote the idea that Kong escaped the fire that destroyed parts of the backlot at Universal Studios Hollywood in 2008.

After stomping through various parts of the city in the next few weeks -- Santa Monica Pier and Hollywood Boulevard, for example -- the knuckle-dragging ape will, according to Universal Studios' publicity folks, settle into his new home at the theme park.

The ape will star in King Kong 360 3D, an attraction designed by director Peter Jackson. It is scheduled to open by the Fourth of July holiday.

The news crew at KTLA-TV Channel 5 shot video of the scene of destruction at Dodger Stadium:  


Photo: King Kong footprints cut through Dodger Stadium. Credit: NBC Universal Studios

Video: Will Rosie O'Donnell host another daytime talk show?

Just when Ellen DeGeneres was positioning herself as Oprah's heir apparent, out of nowhere comes Rosie O'Donnell looking to return to daytime talk, entertainment reporter Joe Flint says. Can she pull it off?

Video: Spicy 'Spartacus' slays 'em for Starz

Long overshadowed by HBO and Showtime, Starz has seen a sword-and-sandal melodrama become its first original series hit, entertainment business reporter Joe Flint says. Read his story here and watch the video below.

Video report: HBO's 'The Pacific' enlists 3.1 million viewers

Media reporter Joe Flint says about 3.1 million people signed up for the Sunday night premiere episode of HBO's expensive World War II epic, "The Pacific."

That's not as much as "Band of Brothers," HBO's first big World War II miniseries from Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, which debuted in 2001.

Check out Joe's video, where he explains the ratings and why the show is still likely to make a profit. And read his full Company Town blog post here

New website for Hollywood tourists debuts

Hollywood tourism

Expedia, Orbitz and Travelocity are all fine ways of booking a trip to fun spots like Las Vegas, San Francisco and San Diego.

But if you plan to visit Hollywood, you can use a travel website designed exclusively for Tinseltown.

The new site, ExperienceHollywood.com, was created by Universal Studios Hollywood and went live this week. Although the theme park's logos and ticket deals are featured prominently on the site, visitors can also book trips to nearby attractions, such as Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm, and make reservations with tour bus companies and Hollywood hotels.

The website is part of an effort by a coalition of Los Angeles businesses to promote Hollywood as it celebrates several milestones and openings. 2010 marks the 50th anniversary of the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the 70th anniversary of the Palladium theater and the 25th anniversary of the RockWalk, a rock music tribute on Sunset Boulevard.

In the next few weeks, the website is expected to expand to include tips on local eateries, historic landmarks, walking tours and other things to see. 

-- Hugo Martin

Photo: Hollywood celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Walk of Fame. Credit: Los Angeles Times

Toy Fair 2010: Wal-Mart to release exclusive line of toys for 'How to Train Your Dragon'

NEW YORK -- Retail giant Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is preparing to launch an exclusive line of toys for the upcoming DreamWorks film "How to Train Your Dragon," executives announced at this week's American International Toy Fair. Dragon

The licensed toy line, created by Toronto toy maker Spin Master, will launch March 1 and will feature action figures, dragon models, viking play sets, plush dragons and role-play costumes.

To appeal to budget-minded parents, the chain is offering the toys at prices ranging from $5 to $30, said Laura Phillips, Wal-Mart's chief toy officer, in an interview with The Times.

"There's a lot of newness in the industry -- we're seeing incredible innovation from a breadth of suppliers," she said. "In 2010, there's more optimism. We're intending to lean in heavily and place big bets."

Harold Chizick, a Spin Master spokesman, said the company was excited to offer a line of dragon-themed toys, saying he believed boys in particular would be drawn to the products.

As the economy continues to recover, Chizick predicted toy manufacturers would become more innovative this year.

"I think the appetite for risk for many manufacturers will be a little higher than in 2009," he said.

The animated movie, about a boy named Hiccup who befriends a dragon named Toothless, will be in theaters March 26.

-- Andrea Chang

Photo: Wal-Mart is releasing an exclusive line of toys for DreamWorks' "How to Train Your Dragon." Credit: DreamWorks

Joe Flint on today's entertainment news

Media reporter Joe Flint looks behind two headlines: Why Carl Icahn wants to increase his stake in movie company Lions Gate, and why video kiosk company Redbox agreed to a 28-day delay before offering Warner movies. Read more on Icahn here and on Redbox here.

Indie producer Film Department shoots for IPO this week [Updated]

[Update at 12:15 p.m.: My colleague Ben Fritz at Company Town hears that the deal has been delayed until late-February.]

In a relative rarity for Hollywood, a movie production company will try to launch an initial public stock offering this week.

But the deal from Film Department Holdings Inc. asks investors to make a giant leap of faith: The West Hollywood firm has just two films under its belt, and says it will need to secure substantial additional financing, beyond the IPO proceeds, to keep going.

Mark_gill Film Department is making a leap of faith, too: It has tapped a little-known securities firm to handle the stock sale. San Diego-based Girard Securities is marketing the deal via its new online IPO Solutions unit. This is the company’s first attempt to sell an IPO; it’s primarily expecting to attract individual investors to the deal -- which suggests that big-money institutional investors aren't biting.

Film Department hopes to sell 6.5 million shares for as much as $14 each, raising about $90 million. The stock would trade on Nasdaq under the ticker symbol TFDI.

The company was founded in June 2007 by industry veterans Mark Gill and Neil Sacker. Gill, 47, was president of Warner Independent Pictures from 2003 to 2006 and before that had stints at Stratus Films, Miramax Films and Columbia/Tri-Star Pictures. Sacker, 48, previously held posts at Yari Film Group, Miramax and Warner Bros.

At inception, the company had planned to produce up to six films a year, but says it was forced to curtail its ambitions in part because of the Writers Guild of America strike in 2007-2008 and surging movie production costs.

Neilsacker Film Department has produced two films to date: “Law Abiding Citizen,” starring Gerard Butler and Jamie Foxx, which the company says has grossed $100 million worldwide since its October release; and “The Rebound” with Catherine Zeta-Jones, which is scheduled for summer release.

In the prospectus for the IPO, the company touts itself as having “demonstrated an ability to develop, produce and sell star-driven, moderate-cost, studio-quality films.” Film Department also pitches its business model as risk-averse: The company says its plan is to license its films internationally to cover a minimum of 80% of the net film budget.

Yet the firm struggled with financing last summer. Part of the proceeds from the IPO would be used to pay down $29.5 million in accumulated debt.

Film Department also estimates that it needs $157.5 million in new credit to pay for distribution and marketing of its near-term film projects, including the romantic comedy "Earthbound" with Kate Hudson and Gael Garcia Bernal.

“We require additional financing, and without it we may have to limit or discontinue our operations,” the firm says in the prospectus. “There is substantial doubt about our ability to continue as a going concern.”

Warnings about risk are boilerplate in IPO documents, of course, but in this case investors would do well to read those warnings very carefully.


-- Tom Petruno

Top photo: Mark Gill. Bottom photo: Neil Sacker. Credit: Film Department Holdings

James Cameron on 'Avatar' vs. 'Titanic'

Can "Avatar" beat "Titanic," the highest-grossing film of all time, and does that mean anything to James Cameron, who directed both films? Los Angeles Times entertainment reporter John Horn asks the question as part of an awards season discussion with Cameron and four other top directors -- Kathryn Bigelow ("The Hurt Locker"), Lee Daniels ("Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire"), Jason Reitman ("Up in the Air") and Quentin Tarantino ("Inglourious Basterds"). 

Click on the video below to see what Cameron had to say, and check The Times' movie blog every day this week for a fresh clip from the 90-minute Envelope Roundtable discussion.

 

Another shakeup at Disney

Walt Disney Studios Chairman Rich Ross continues to clean house, ousting the studio's production chief, Oren Aviv, Dawn Chmielewski reports in the Company Town blog.

Aviv, who had been at the studio for 18 years, was president of marketing from 2000 to 2006 before taking the production job. Aviv also served as an executive producer on the studio's movie series "National Treasure" and was a close ally of former studio head Dick Cook, who was ousted last year.

Video: Dawn Chmielewski

Credit: Tim French / Los Angeles Times

A prequel for 'District 9'?

Popular culture writer Geoff Boucher interviewed "District 9" director Neill Blomkamp recently about what kind of films he wants to make next. The science fiction thriller got a best-picture nomination from the Producers Guild Assn. this week, and it remains a wild card in the awards season. That success, on a shoestring budget, has opened up opportunities for Blomkamp to do more expensive films and to get bigger stars. Surprisingly, Blomkamp, a native of South Africa, isn't going the obvious route.


Read more from the interview here

Find Geoff's Hero Complex blog here

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