24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Nicole Sperling

Simon Beaufoy talks 'Salmon Fishing,' 'Hunger Games' sequel

March 9, 2012 | 12:37 pm

Simon Beaufoy, left

Simon Beaufoy is consistently drawn to characters in impossible situations. It’s what led the Oscar-winning screenwriter to such films as “The Full Monty,” “Slumdog Millionaire” and “127 Hours.”

Beaufoy’s latest work, “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen,” features the requisite challenging experience with his two protagonists, played by Emily Blunt and Ewan McGregor, charged with the difficult endeavor of bringing salmon to the arid desert of the Middle East. Yet, what really attracted Beaufoy to the project — based on the novel by Paul Torday — was the mere challenge of adapting it.

“It’s a very strange book,” said Beaufoy in a phone interview from New York on the second leg of his press tour for the film, which opens today. “It’s made up of letters and emails and interviews and Post-it Notes. And it’s many points of view and multiple time frames. It didn’t have a normal novel structure at all.”

On top of that, it’s a novel that combines both satire and romance, two genres rarely compatible on the big screen. “Normally, they are like fire and water. Satire has such a cold edge to it that it kind of kills romance. But the novel had a warmth and generosity despite it being satirical about the politics of the time and the political system,” Beaufoy said. “I just sort of fell in love with the tone of it, really. It’s such an eccentric piece of work with an eccentric tone. I loved the idea of turning it into a movie.”

In the film, directed by Lasse Hallstrom, McGregor plays a stuffy fisheries expert lured into a ridiculous adventure by Blunt’s British investment consultant, whose rich Middle Eastern client wants to bring his favorite sport, fly-fishing, to his native land.

One of the movie's particularly bright spots is Kristin Scott Thomas' turn as the British press secretary. Beaufoy changed the character from a man, as he was in the book, to a woman and for the first time in his career wrote the role with a specific actor in mind.

“When I started out writing many years ago, I quickly discovered that Robert De Niro is busy that week and can’t do your film in Yorkshire. It never works out, it just never works out,” he said. “When I decided to make the press secretary a woman, I thought, I really, really want Kristin Scott Thomas to play this role. And she did, which is just a joy to me and she is very funny at it.”

Beaufoy has often been part of small movies that have become Oscar-winning surprises, but his next project sees him tackle what is arguably the most high-profile writing job of his career: adapting the sequel to the dystopian adventure “The Hunger Games.” Although the Lionsgate film isn't due in theaters until March 23, Beaufoy is already fine-tuning the screenplay for "Catching Fire," based on author Suzanne Collins' second novel in the bestselling series.

Beaufoy was reluctant to share many details about the project, but he did say that he's been charmed by Collins and her knowledge of warfare.

“She’s fascinating,” said Beaufoy. “Her dad was a military expert, historian and lecturer and used to be in the forces. It’s fascinating hearing her talk about the thesis for the three novels: The first is about survival, the second is rebellion and the third is about all-out war. She’s very compelling about all of that.”

Beaufoy was impressed by the boldness of Collins’ writing, specifically her treatment of young people. “The books treat teenagers exactly how teenagers want to be treated — with great seriousness. The situations are life and death and we don’t have to sugarcoat that.”

He went on to say that he believes gender matters very little in the “Hunger Games” saga, which, of course, revolves around the experiences of young heroine Katniss Everdeen (played in the film by Jennifer Lawrence).

“What I really love about the books is it isn’t even up for discussion that she’s a girl," Beaufoy said. "There’s no discussion that she shouldn’t be killing people because she’s a girl, and she shouldn’t be killed because she’s a girl. We’ve done gender politics. This is about life and death. It makes the gender politics seem finicky and not terribly interesting.”


Review: "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen"

'Hunger Games': Gary Ross on hunting the job, Jennifer Lawrence

— Nicole Sperling

Photo: Writer Simon Beaufoy with Emily Blunt and Ewan McGregor at the premiere of CBS Films' "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen" in Los Angeles. Credit: Alberto E. Rodriguez / Getty Images

Week in Review: Billy Crystal, Oscar surprises [video]

March 2, 2012 |  4:15 pm

Since airing last Sunday, the Oscars have been the source of much debate. Did Billy Crystal restore some much-needed showmanship to the proceedings or set the event back with Catskills humor?  Should the telecast's flat rating among adults ages 18 to 49 be cause for alarm at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences or celebrated as a victory of sorts?

And were there indeed any surprises on the podium, what with “The Artist” sweeping the biggest awards?

The Times’ Nicole Sperling and Steven Zeitchik look back at these questions and others from Hollywood’s biggest night.

Oscars 2012: What was Billy Crystal’s lamest joke?

Oscars 2012: Full coverage

'The Artist' is big winner at Academy Awards

Angelina Jolie's right leg and other odd Oscar moments

— Steven Zeitchik



Oscar voters: Alfre Woodard talks membership, diversity

February 25, 2012 |  9:00 am

When Alfre Woodard was nominated for her Oscar back in 1984 for her supporting role in the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings biopic "Cross Creek," she had no idea who voted for her or what the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences was all about. She only joined the elite organization after her nomination because it was the polite thing to do.

"I said yea because it seemed rude to say no," quipped Woodard during a phone interview.

But over the years, the African American actress has become an active member of the organization, often serving on the executive committee of the actors branch that chooses its new members. And though Woodard is in the minority in her own branch -- which is 88% white and 59% male -- she is actively trying to change that through recruitment and engagement with people she works with in the industry.
Oscar voters study

"All of us who have served on the nominating committee -- and it rotates -- [look] for young people that might fit the rigorous criteria for becoming an academy member," said Woodard. "Actors work all the time on different sets of movies, and we take it seriously. It's going to take time for [diversity] to show up, but we are actively underway."

Woodard has served as something of a spokeswoman for the academy recently, participating in interviews with "NBC Nightly News" after the L.A. Times published a story exploring the demographics of the academy. Though she is optimistic that changes will be made to the predominantly white, male academy, she says she's realistic about the pace of such change -- and of the limits of the organization.

Each branch of the academy has its own membership rules, but all branches became stricter in 2003 when the academy decided to curtail the growth of the organization to 30 members a year on top of replacing those who leave the organization because of retirement, resignation or death. Now an actor must have three feature credits, and a producer needs the equivalent of two producing credits.

“What we are looking for needs to happen somewhere other than the academy. What has complicated the situation are the specific requirements needed for membership," said Woodard. "You can’t make allowances.”

So Woodard has been doing her little part to honor her fellow black actresses, while the academy and the industry catch up to the country in terms of diversity.

For the last three years, beginning with the nominations of Viola Davis for "Doubt" and Taraji Henson for "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," Woodard has hosted her own Oscar dinner for all the black women who have been nominated for Academy Awards and, she said, "in a perfect world all of those that should have been," such as actresses S. Epatha Merkerson and C.C.H. Pounder.

“I do it to celebrate the fact that we all exist and we are here,” said Woodard.


Oscars: Cheat Sheet | Key Scenes | Pundit's picks | Ballot

Movie academy: Oscar voters overwhelmingly white and male

Oscar voters: When the motion picture academy is a family affair

Oscars 2012: Despite Halle and Denzel, gold mostly eludes nonwhites

 --Nicole Sperling

Photo credit: Alfre Woodard at the Black Women on Film panel discussion at the 2003 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. Credit: Evan Agostini / Getty Images

Oscars 2012: Sacha Baron Cohen not barred — yet

February 22, 2012 |  4:52 pm

Sacha Baron Cohen in "Hugo"

Sacha Baron Cohen, the master of buffoon antics, seems to do a good job of stirring up publicity for his upcoming film "The Dictator," using the Oscars as a peg.

Not that "The Dictator" is a likely nominee for the 2013 awards. But Cohen, who did appear in this year's best picture nominee "Hugo," had been expected to attend the show Sunday as part of that film's contingent.

Word started going around Tuesday, though, that Cohen would walk the red carpet disguised as General Aladeen, his character from "The Dictator."

While red-carpet reporters are always keen to ask stars about their upcoming projects, the academy frowns on the idea of promoting future movies during the Oscars; for instance, presenters of awards are never introduced as "star of the upcoming film.... "

Academy of Motion Pictures President Tom Sherak told The Times that he called Paramount Pictures, the studio distributing "The Dictator" (as well as "Hugo"), and told them "it's a bad thing to do" because it would make a mockery of the red carpet.

Paramount representatives declined to comment on the matter. But sources suggested that the studio may be claiming it is unable to control the star of its big summer release, in which Cohen plays a political strongman working to ensure that democracy never comes to his oppressed nation.

Reports circulated Wednesday afternoon that the academy had pulled Cohen's tickets for the Oscars, but an academy spokeswoman said no decision on the matter had been made and they were trying to learn more about Cohen's intentions.


Who's who in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences

Oscar predictions: First up, score and song

Oscar voters: How some TV veterans made it into the academy

— Nicole Sperling and John Horn

Photo: Asa Butterfield plays Hugo Cabret and Sacha Baron Cohen portrays the station inspector in the movie "Hugo."  Credit: Jaap Buitendijk / Paramount Pictures

Oscars 2012: Last-minute voters cast their ballots

February 21, 2012 |  2:11 pm

The buttoned-down Los Angeles offices of PricewaterhouseCoopers played host to a steady stream of baseball-cap and blue jean-clad visitors Tuesday -- Oscar voters, casting their ballots on the last day of Academy Awards voting.

By late morning, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences members and their assistants and messengers were arriving at the downtown skyscraper at a rate of 15 to 20 an hour to deliver their white envelopes to a locked, black lacquer drop-box in PricewaterhouseCoopers' 49th floor reception area.

Some of the last-minute voters said they had been trying to see as many of the nominated films as possible before the deadline, or had forgotten that Monday was a postal holiday.

Deena Appel, a  costume designer in the art directors branch, ran her ballot into the gleaming glass and chrome building with the help of her 4-year-old son, who was charged with handling the actual envelope. Appel said it’s not the first time she has hand-delivered her ballot on the last day of voting.

“I try to see as much as I can, and with a 4-year-old it’s hard,” Appel said, as she chased her son down the steps. “With the holiday weekend I lost track. I even went to the post office yesterday to try and send it. The date just creeps up on you every year.”

Appel, an eight-year academy member, said she was a bit disappointed with this year’s best picture contenders.

“I prefer the smaller field,” Appel said, in contrast to this year’s Oscar race, which features nine best picture contenders.

PricewaterhouseCoopers partner Brad Oltmanns, who oversees the balloting and regularly appears on the Oscar telecast, declined to comment on the number of ballots coming in Tuesday. According to a press release issued by the accounting firm, it takes PricewaterhouseCoopers' staff about 1,700 man-hours to count and verify the ballots cast by the academy's 5,765 voting members. Time is tight -- the Academy Awards will be held Sunday.

One academy member carrying a ballot into Pricewaterhouse on Tuesday said his last-minute delivery was a sign of how seriously he takes his responsibility as an Oscar voter.

"My ballot stares at me for a few weeks," said the art director, who declined to give his name because he preferred to remain anonymous as an academy member. "There's some hard decisions to make."

Andrew London, a member of the editors branch, said he couldn’t imagine turning his ballot in any earlier.

“I was still seeing movies yesterday,” said London.

The last film London watched was “Transformers,” which he called “torture."

Otherwise, the crop of movies up for consideration this year had middling appeal to the 63-year old craftsman. “There were a lot of good films this year, not a lot of great films.”


The Oscar voters: Meet the members at large

Who's who in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences

Unmasking the academy: Oscar voters overwhelmingly white, male

Unmasking the academy: Oscar voters aren't always who you might think

-- Nicole Sperling and Rebecca Keegan

Photo: Brad Oltmanns and Rick Rosas of PricewaterhouseCoopers, holding a box of last year's ballots, are joined by Film Academy President Tom Sherak. Credit: Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Week in review: 'The Help's' SAG win; movies at Super Bowl [video]

February 3, 2012 |  5:30 pm

It's a season of contests and between last weekend and this one we've had some big ones. First the SAG Awards showed us that maybe there is something else to think about besides "The Artist" winning it all. And this weekend, of course, the biggest game on television becomes a contest for best advertisement. The studios aren't content to miss out on this possible record-breaking audience with many of them pulling out all the stops to show off their summertime wares.

L.A. Times reporters Steve Zeitchik and Nicole Sperling discuss the latest machinations in awards land and who will win the eyeballs at this weekend's Super Bowl.


SAG Awards: 'The Help' wins big

Super Bowl ads: 'The Dictator' evokes 'Borat'

Super Bowl 2012: Matthew Broderick channels Ferris Bueller in ad

Oscar nominations 2012: Surprises? Getting naked doesn't guarantee nod

January 24, 2012 |  9:28 am

What's the take-away from the Oscar nominations? Keep your clothes on, and your mouth shut.  Make an uplifting film. And don't think just because you've won many times before that you're a lock. (Steven Spielberg and Pixar Animation, we're looking at you.)

The Oscar nominations brought "both the expected and the unexpected," says L.A. Times film critic Betsy Sharkey. She and The Times' film writer Nicole Sperling analyze the 84th Academy Award nominees and point to front-runners among films and actors -- it looks like Meryl Streep and Viola Davis in a race for best actress, for starters.

Among best picture nominees, "what we did not see was any animation," Sharkey says. "It's been a really tough year for animation. Pixar couldn't even get in animation category, much less best picture.” And “Cars 2”? It “drove right into a wall." 

PHOTOS: Oscar snubs

"Rango," they note is the front-runner in that race.  Meanwhile, DreamWorks is likely popping open the before-noon Champagne with the nominations of "Puss in Boots" and "Kung Fu Panda 2."

Rooney Mara is a surprising best actress nod for "Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," Sperling says. But many women were snubbed, including Kirsten Dunst for "Melancholia." 

In the best actor category, Sharkey says, "apparently taking all your clothes off will not work because Michael Fassbender -- completely shut out," Sharkey says. "I think it's frankly a shame."

The race will culminate Feb. 26 when the Oscars are handed out at the Kodak Theatre.

Oscars: 9 foreign-language films make academy shortlist

January 18, 2012 | 10:45 am

Golden Globe winner "A Separation"

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has winnowed 63 eligible foreign-language films down to nine potential contenders for the best foreign-language film at the 2012 Oscars. Golden Globe winner "A Separation" made the cut, but China's Christian Bale-starrer, "Flowers of War," didn't make the cut, nor did Mexico's "Miss Bala."

The nine contenders include:

Belgium's "Bullhead," from director Michael R. Roskam

Canada's "Monsieur Lazhar," from director Philippe Falardeau

Denmark's "SuperClasico," from director Ole Christian Madsen

Germany's "Pina," from director Wim Wenders

Iran's "A Separation," from director Asghar Farhadi

Israel's "Footnote," from director Joseph Cedar

Morocco's "Omar Killed Me," from director Roschdy Zem

Poland's "In Darkness," from director Agnieszka Holland

Taiwan's "Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale," from director Wei Te-sheng

Several hundred Los Angeles-based members screened the 63 eligible films between mid-October and Jan. 13 and chose their six top films. The academy's Foreign Language Award Executive Committe then added three additional selections to fill out the ultimate shorlist.

Phase two of nominations will involve specially invited committees in New York and Los Angeles to spend Friday through Sunday viewing the three films each day and casting their ballots.

The five nominees will be announced Jan. 24.


Christian Bale film among 63 vying for foreign language Oscar

Foreign-language Oscars: Marston's Albanian film deemed ineligible

— Nicole Sperling

Photo credit: Star Peyman Moadi in the movie "A Separation," directed by Asghar Farhadi. Photo credit: Berlin International Film Festival.

'The Muppets': The rules of writing for a pig and a frog [video]

December 19, 2011 |  6:00 am


Turns out writing a Muppet script is no easy task. Star Jason Segel and his "The Muppets" screenwriting partner Nicholas Stoller, who previously collaborated on "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" and "Get Him to the Greek," spent four years writing a script that both honored the Jim Henson Muppet movies of the past and remained relevant today, they told an audience at the Envelope Screening Series.

That required learning the specific rules of each Muppet and simplifying a very complicated initial premise. Learn more about a rather complex writing process -- one that may have involved adult-size Muppet costumes -- in the video clip below.


'The Muppets' are sweet and subversive: Movie review

'Muppets' director promises plenty of "anarchic stupidity"

-- Nicole Sperling

Photo: Walter the Muppet, Jason Segel and Amy Adams in "The Muppets." Credit: Scott Garfield/Disney Enterprises

SAG Awards: Does 'Bridesmaids' love up comedy's Oscar chances?

December 14, 2011 |  7:15 am

"Bridesmaids" producer Judd Apatow started banging the drum for an Oscar comedy category months ago, hoping the film could get some recognition beyond the populist love for it and its impressive box office gross. Perhaps with Wednesday's nomination of the film in SAG's best ensemble category, he can stop pushing so hard.

While the winner of the SAG ensemble has always coincided with an Oscar nomination for best picture, with the exception of "The Birdcage" in 1996, the nominations don't always line up as neatly. Still, Wednesday's nomination bodes well for this summer's R-rated comedy hit. (The nod to actress Melissa McCarthy in the best female supporting category doesn't hurt either.)

Photos: SAG Awards top nominees

The 2,100 actors who make up SAG's nominating committee have often been spot-on with their picks reflecting the Academy's best picture choices. Last year, the actors picked "The Social Network," "The King's Speech," "Black Swan," "The Kids are All Right" and "The Fighter" -- five films that made it into the 10-picture Academy race. Back in 2008, it chose "Slumdog Millionaire," "Benjamin Button," "Doubt," "Frost/Nixon," and "Milk" as its top five -- all Oscar nominees in the top race.

Other years there's been less overlap in the nominees, with SAG nominating films for its awards that didn't land Academy nominations for best picture, such as  "Nine" in 2009, "Hairspray" in 2007 and "Bobby" in 2006.

What may differentiate "Bridesmaids" from the outliers of the previous years, though, is the Kristen Wiig-starrer resonated with both critics and audiences and was regarded as a game-changer for   women in the industry, demonstrating that women can be as funny as men and lure a big audience. Whether that's enough to get the Academy's attention remains to be seen. But getting the support of the actors' branch -- which makes up the largest voting bloc of the Academy -- is a significant start.


SAG Awards: The full nominations list

'Bridesmaids': Judd Apatow wants an Oscar comedy category

SAG Awards: 'The Help,' 'Bridesmaids' among outstanding cast nominees

-- Nicole Sperling

Photo: Kirsten Wiig in "Bridesmaids." Credit: Universal Pictures


Recommended on Facebook


In Case You Missed It...




Get Alerts on Your Mobile Phone

Sign me up for the following lists: