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Category: Nicole Sperling

Black List 2011: The Top 10 hottest scripts in Hollywood

December 12, 2011 |  9:00 am

Before Hollywood leaves town for the holidays, they check their inboxes for Franklin Leonard's Black List -- the annual compendium of the best unproduced screenplays of the year. Most recipients already have an inkling of what's on the list -- especially this year with 307 Hollywood insiders participating in the voting. But the list still serves as a well-watched barometer of what's resonating most with those people charged with reading scripts for a living.

Check out the Top 10 from 2011 below. There are no women in the top 10 this year but the topics are an eclectic mix of genre, drama and odd-ball comedy.

133 votes: "The Imitation Game" by Graham Moore

The story of British World War II cryptographer Alan Turing who broke several German codes, but in later life was prosecuted for being homosexual, leading to his suicide.

Agent: Creative Artists Agency -- J.P. Evans, Jacqueline Sacerio

Manager:The Safran Co. -- Tom Drumm

Producers: Ido Ostrowsky, Nora Grossman producing for Warner Bros.

84 votes: "When the Street Lights Go" by Chris Hutton, Eddie O'Keefe

In the early 1980s, a town suffers through the aftermath of a murder of a high school girl and a teacher.

Agency: WME -- Simon Faber, Sarah Self

Manager: Tariq Merhab Management -- Tariq Merhab

Producers: Imagine Entertainment

59 votes: "Chewie" by Evan Susser, Van Robichaux

A satirical, behind-the-scenes look at the making of "Stars Wars" through the eyes of Peter Mayhew, who played Chewbacca.

Agency: WME -- Mike Esola

Manager: Industry Entertainment -- Jess Rosenthal

53 votes: "The Outsider" by Andrew Baldwin

In post-World War II Japan, an American former prisoner-of-war rises in the yakuza.

Agency: Creative Artists Agency -- Jay Baker, John Garvey

Manager: Anonymous Content -- Bard Dorros, David Kanter

Producers: Linson Entertainment for Warner Bros.

43 votes: "Father Daughter Time: A Tale of Armed Robbery and Eskimo Kisses" by Matthew Aldrich

A man goes on a three-state crime spree with an accomplice, his 11-year-old daughter.

Agency: Creative Artists Agency: John Garvey, Stuart Manashil

Manager: Silent R Management: Jewerl Ross

Producers: Pearl Street Productions production for Warner Bros.

33 votes: "In the Event of a Moon Disaster" by Mike Jones

An alternate telling of the Apollo 11 mission to the moon that examines what might have happened if the astronauts had crash-landed there.

Agency: Creative Artists Agency: David Kopple, JP Evans

Manager: The Gotham Group: Lindsay Williams

Producer: FilmNation

30 votes: "Maggie" by John Scott 3

As a "walking dead" virus spreads across the country, a farm family helps their eldest daughter come to terms with her infection as she slowly becomes a flesh-eating zombie.

Agency: Creative Artists Agency: Billy Hawkins, Dan Rabinow

Manager: Trevor Kaufman

Producer: Pierre-Ange Le Pogam

30 votes: "The Current War" by Michael Mitnick

Based on the true story of the race between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse to develop a practical system of electricity and sell their respective inventions to the country and the world.

Agency: William Morris Endeavor -- Simon Faber

Manager: Fourth Floor Productions -- Jeff Silver

28 votes: "The End" by Aron Eli Coleite

Four people -- a veteran broadcaster in London, a 16-year old girl and her boyfriend in Ann Arbor, Mich., and a devoted family man in Shanghai -- each try to make peace with their lives before an interstellar event ends the world in six hours.

Agency: Creative Artists Agency -- Matt Rosen

Producer: Warner Bros.

27 votes: "Beyond the Pale" by Chad Feehan

Based on William Gay's novel "Twilight," teenage siblings suspect they've been ripped off by the town undertaker, but what they discover is much more sinister.

Agency: Creative Artists Agency -- Matt Rosen, Jacqueline Sacerio

Manager: Management 360 -- Guymon Casady, Mary Lee

Producers: Feehan's The Fort producing for Vendome Pictures

27 votes: "Ezekiel Moss" by Keith Bunin

 A mysterious stranger who possibly has the power to channel the souls of the dead changes the lives of everyone in a small Nebraska town, especially a young widow and her 11-year-old son.

Agency: Creative Artists Agency -- Rowena Arguelles

Manager: Kaplan/Perrone -- Alex Lerner, Sean Perrone

Producers: A Likely Story and Mandalay Pictures


Franklin Leonard, the man behind the Black List  

The 2010 Black List top 10 

--Nicole Sperling

Photo: Chewbacca and Han Solo (Harrison Ford) in 'Star Wars.' Credit: Lucasfilm 

'Breaking Dawn': Kristen Stewart's extreme 'Twilight' transformation

November 20, 2011 |  4:17 pm

Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson in "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 1"

The fans who lined up over the weekend to see "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 1" — and there were a lot of them, considering that the fourth installment in the franchise adapted from Stephenie Meyer's bestselling young-adult novels raked in an estimated $139.5 million — witnessed some pretty radical upheaval in the lives of young Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) and her vampire beau Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson).

The couple marries, and during a romantic honeymoon getaway, they finally consummate their relationship. But Bella unexpectedly becomes pregnant and fights to carry the child to term, though the fetus is seemingly incompatible with her body.

To depict the great physical toll the pregnancy takes on Bella's body — she's unable to eat and essentially is withering away as her stomach swells — the "Breaking Dawn" filmmakers looked to Lola Visual Effects, the company responsible for downsizing muscular Chris Evans to a pre-transformation weakling in this summer's comic book superhero film "Captain America." The results are certainly eyebrow-raising, with Bella becoming increasingly pale and extremely gaunt. 

"The idea was to leave you with a question mark about how they did it," said the film's director, Bill Condon. "We wanted you to think it was possible that Kristen actually lost a lot of weight for it."

The visual-effects team added prosthetics to Stewart's face (a process that took three hours of application) to make her eyes look more sunken and her ears larger. Stewart likened wearing the prosthetics to having a "big, skinny head" for the scenes. Still, the 21-year old actress was game for the transformation.

"I'm so happy that they were not afraid of it — to have your main character look so awful for half of the movie is a bold choice for a huge film," Stewart said. "It was the one thing I wasn't fully responsible for concerning Bella and it made me really nervous. I didn't know what it would look like until I saw the movie."


'Breaking Dawn' with 'Twilight' director Bill Condon

'Breaking Dawn--Part 1' review: Vampire tale is lifeless

— Nicole Sperling

Photo: Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson as Bella and Edward in 'The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 1'

Credit: Summit Entertainment

Shailene Woodley makes leap to big screen in 'Descendants'

November 19, 2011 |  9:00 am

Shaileen Woodley

The loose braid down her back, her trendy silver necklace and her perfect skin give away Shailene Woodley’s tender age. Yet, hearing her speak you would think you were talking to her mom or at the very least her older, more mature sister.

For Woodley, George Clooney’s costar in the Alexander Payne drama “The Descendants,” is one of those precocious young actors who make you wonder whether it’s possible that someone at age 20 can be so self-possessed. Friendly and sweet like someone you’d want to babysit your children, Woodley may have just starred in her first feature role but acts as if she’s been doing it for years.

And she has grand ambitions. She’s interested in working with other top-rate filmmakers -- naming Danny Boyle, Terrence Malick and Darren Aronofsky. Yet the lithe brunet with hazel eyes is currently hampered by her commitment to a television show.

The actress, who has appeared in commercials since she was 5 and landed her big break as the lead of the ABC Family show “The Secret Life of an American Teenager” during her junior year of high school, is getting rave reviews for her role in “The Descendants,” in which she plays the wayward 17-year-old daughter of George Clooney’s Matt King.

She was called “beautifully nuanced” by Betsy Sharkey in the Los Angeles Times and credited by the New York Times for giving “one of the toughest, smartest, most credible adolescent performances in recent memory.”

Woodley’s character, Alexandra, joins forces with her father in an attempt to locate the man who’s been having an affair with her mother, who has just been hospitalized after a boating accident. Woodley had been chasing the coveted part since she first read the script, months before Clooney joined the film.

“The relationships between the characters were really strong in ways that most scripts just aren’t today. It was truly human and not Hollywood,” Woodley said while lounging on a couch in a Toronto hotel before the film’s debut at the annual film festival.

Unable to audition in Los Angeles because of conflicts with her television show, Woodley tracked down Payne in New York to finally try out for a part that higher-profile actresses such as Kristen Stewart were considering.

Continue reading »

Academy president: 'I was appalled' hearing Ratner on Howard Stern

November 10, 2011 | 11:06 am

Cohen sherak mischer
A day after announcing that Brian Grazer would take over as co-producer of the Oscar show after Brett Ratner dropped out, Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences President Tom Sherak answered questions about the debacle, the loss of Eddie Murphy as host, and efforts to get the broadcast back on track.

Was it the gay slur or the Howard Stern show that lost Ratner his job?

It was both. I had already said in a statement that I was going to give him another chance, but that he was not to do it again. The academy is a special place. It’s about integrity in every way, shape or form. It’s spent its entire eightysomething years trying to be above in what his mission is.

It was the accumulation. It wasn’t just one thing. He did everything he could. He apologized right away. I stood behind him. It was wrong, reckless, all those things. But I’ve been brought up that you give someone a second chance if they do not do it maliciously and he did not do that maliciously. I looked at it that way. When he looked at it the next day … he understood it. He got it. I appreciate that also. It had to happen. He went a step over the line in the accumulation of the things he did.

Did you receive a lot of pressure, phone calls from academy members upset with his behavior?

There was no question that a lot of people called and complained. The answer is yes. I got a lot of emails, 50 emails … People were upset. They had a right to be upset. It’s their organization, and people need to speak out when they are upset. They were upset by both things. Some by the first, some by the second. I think the first statement I made, don’t do it again, the bottom line is all those things came in,  but I didn’t look at as pressure, I looked at it as expressing how they felt. I didn’t look at it as pressure but people caring about the organization. The organization didn’t do this, he did this. Yes he worked for us.

He knew he crossed the line. He resigned because he didn’t want to hurt the academy or me. He knew he had gone too far. He was trying to protect us.

Do you regret hiring him?

Not at all. Not one bit. Would I do it again? The answer is, I would have done it again based on the interview I had. I knew a bit about him and his career and I’ve known him for a long time. Not close. I believed and so did [academy CEO] Dawn [Hudson] that he would give us a great show. That’s what we were looking for, a great show. He brought us someone who gave us a lot of press with Eddie. Think about that, we were talking about the Academy Awards in August. Everybody has an opinion. Based on him coming in and talking to us, I would have.

Continue reading »

Brett Ratner resigns as Oscar producer after gay slur

November 8, 2011 |  4:34 pm

Brett Ratner

Director Brett Ratner submitted his resignation as a producer of the 84th Annual Academy Awards Tuesday after coming under fire for making a gay slur.

"He did the right thing for the academy and for himself," Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences President Tom Sherak said Tuesday afternoon. "Words have meaning, and they have consequences. Brett is a good person, but his comments were unacceptable. We all hope this will be an opportunity to raise awareness about the harm that is caused by reckless and insensitive remarks, regardless of the intent."

In a Q&A session last weekend after a screening of his new film, “Tower Heist,” Ratner said, “rehearsal is for fags." He then went on Howard Stern's Sirius XM show and talked about masturbation, cunnilingus, pubic hair, the size of his testicles, his sexual encounter with Lindsay Lohan.

Ratner apologized Monday and Sherak seemed to accept his apology, but the drumbeat of criticism continued Tuesday, culminating in Ratner's resignation. It was not immediately clear whether Ratner's handpicked host, Eddie Murphy, would also leave the show, scheduled for late February. Ratner and Murphy did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Ratner's resignation letter read:

An Open Letter to the Entertainment Industry from Brett Ratner

Dear Colleagues,

Over the last few days, I’ve gotten a well-deserved earful from many of the people I admire most
in this industry expressing their outrage and disappointment over the hurtful and stupid things I
said in a number of recent media appearances. To them, and to everyone I’ve hurt and
offended, I’d like to apologize publicly and unreservedly.

As difficult as the last few days have been for me, they cannot compare to the experience of any
young man or woman who has been the target of offensive slurs or derogatory comments. And
they pale in comparison to what any gay, lesbian, or transgender individual must deal with as
they confront the many inequalities that continue to plague our world.

So many artists and craftspeople in our business are members of the LGBT community, and it
pains me deeply that I may have hurt them. I should have known this all along, but at least I
know it now: words do matter. Having love in your heart doesn’t count for much if what comes
out of your mouth is ugly and bigoted. With this in mind, and to all those who understandably
feel that apologies are not enough, please know that I will be taking real action over the coming
weeks and months in an effort to do everything I can both professionally and personally to help
stamp out the kind of thoughtless bigotry I’ve so foolishly perpetuated.

As a first step, I called Tom Sherak this morning and resigned as a producer of the 84th
Academy Awards telecast. Being asked to help put on the Oscar show was the proudest
moment of my career. But as painful as this may be for me, it would be worse if my association
with the show were to be a distraction from the Academy and the high ideals it represents.

I am grateful to GLAAD for engaging me in a dialogue about what we can do together to
increase awareness of the important and troubling issues this episode has raised and I look
forward to working with them. I am incredibly lucky to have a career in this business that I love
with all of my heart and to be able to work alongside so many of my heroes. I deeply regret my
actions and I am determined to learn from this experience.

Brett Ratner


Brett Ratner's gay slur: Can the academy really be surprised?

New crop of writers for Oscars indicates a sharp focus on comedy

Brett Ratner: Oscar fan who recognizes his outsider status

-- Nicole Sperling and John Horn

Photo credit: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times

New crop of writers for Oscars indicates a sharp focus on comedy

November 6, 2011 |  4:52 pm


Exclusive: Oscar producers Brett Ratner and Don Mischer are exhibiting an intense focus on comedy for the 84th Academy Awards presentation in February. The duo has hired a crop of veteran screenwriters to bring the funny to the show. The scribes boast credits for shows including "Saturday Night Live" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and will be attempting to breathe new life into a program that in the last few years has fallen flat.

Many of the writers have a history of working with either Ratner or his Oscar host, Eddie Murphy, and will work primarily with Murphy. They will write bits for the actor-comedian ahead of time and will be backstage in the writers room the night of the event.

The team includes two of the three writers who currently work on Larry David's "Curb" -- Alec Berg (who also wrote for the 68th Academy Awards) and David Mandel. The third member of that team, Jeff Schaffer, was unavailable but may come in on a part-time basis to help.

Ratner's longtime collaborator, Jeff Nathanson, who wrote the director's new film, "Tower Heist," and worked on his last two "Rush Hour" movies, has also come aboard, in addition to fellow "Heist" scribe Ted Griffin, who penned "Ocean's Eleven," among other films.

“I’m new to this and I wanted to feel comfortable, since I have to drive this whole thing. So I brought in guys that I have a personal relationship with and I’ve worked with before," Ratner said Sunday from the Beverly Hills Hotel, where he was about to sit down to breakfast after hearing the news that "Tower Heist" had opened to $25 million this weekend.

Also on board are Barry Blaustein and David Sheffield, two veteran writers who worked with Murphy on the "Nutty Professor" series and "Saturday Night Live."

The one truly veteran Academy Awards scribe on the case appears to be Jon Macks, who in addition to writing for the last 14 Oscar shows has also penned bits for the Emmys, the Country Music Awards and "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno."

Ratner said he will bring other writers in part-time to work on specific parts of the show, including writer-director Cameron Crowe.

The new crop of writers, who seem to tend toward the irreverent and absurd, could breathe some life into a show that is inherently tough to change.

Ratner said he's confident that Murphy’s stand-up style, which he describes as more about story-telling than joke-telling, is going to bring a fresh perspective. Ratner pointed to Murphy’s ice cream skit from his “Delirious” album and his impersonations as the kind of humor he hopes to bring to the Oscars.

The director said he was pleased with Murphy’s round of appearances on late night talk shows as part of his promotion for “Tower Heist,” calling it proof that the 50-year-old comedian is still on top of his game despite the years he’s been off both the stand-up circuit and SNL.

“Go watch him on Jimmy Fallon and you tell me,” said Ratner. “It’s incredible. He’s funny, smart, irreverant, everything you want in a host. And he wants to win.”  


Brett Ratner chosen to produce 2012 Oscar telecast

Brett Ratner says Eddie Murphy as Oscar host was meant to be

-- Nicole Sperling

Photo: Brett Ratner and Eddie Murphy with the cast of "Tower Heist." Universal Pictures

The week in film: Johnny Depp and Justin Timberlake

October 28, 2011 |  4:28 pm

While "Puss in Boots" will win the box-office crown this weekend,  two other new releases will provide some of the most compelling storylines. "In Time" will serve as the latest notch on the acting resume of Justin Timberlake, who continues his career reinvention from singer to actor. Meanwhile, Johnny Depp will try to prove that he can still work his quirky magic in a smaller, more independent film when he opens "The Rum Diary."

The Times' Nicole Sperling and Steven Zeitchik break down the careers of two of the more magnetic, and complicated, entertainment personalities working today.



Movie projector: 'Puss in Boots' to stomp on the competition

Justin Timberlake and amanda Seyfried on action, 'Alpha Dog' reunion

Justin Timberlake is focused on film

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Justin Timberlake in "In Time." Credit:  20th Century Fox


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The week in film: 'Paranormal Activity 3' and 'Margin Call'

October 21, 2011 |  1:46 pm

"Paranormal Activity 3"

It's an interesting weekend at the movies. A found-footage horror film, "Paranormal Activity 3," tries to solidify its status as a stalwart Hollywood franchise. Meanwhile, a drama about the financial crisis, the Zachary Quinto-Kevin Spacey film "Margin Call," tells of a night in which Wall Street traders see their world collapsing around them.

How will filmgoers respond to a story that seems tailor-made for this Occupy Wall Street moment? The Times' Nicole Sperling and Steven Zeitchik offer their breakdown of the week in Hollywood.



The Week in Film: "Hugo" and "Footloose"

Zachary Quinto rides a wave of personal, professional growth

"Paranormal Activity 3" to frighten rivals

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: "Paranormal Activity 3." Credit: Paramount Pictures


New York film critics move up their awards date

October 19, 2011 | 12:48 pm

"War Horse" be a contender when the New York Film Critics Circle hands out its awards on Nov. 28, two weeks earlier than usual

The New York Film Critics Circle announced Wednesday that it will hand out its annual awards, including its selection for the best film of the year, on Nov. 28, two full weeks ahead of the usual date, in an effort to garner more attention for its choices. The move preempts the selections by the National Board of Review and the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn., bodies that usually make their picks ahead of the New York group.

In a news release, John Anderson, chairman of the New York critics group, said, "As the nations pre-eminent critic’s group, we are excited about kicking off the annual end-of-year discussion with our new early voting date. On the basis of the films we have seen thus far, we are looking forward to another passionate debate amongst our members."

Typically by this point in the awards season cycle, several front-runners have emerged, but the field to date remains relatively wide open. DreamWorks has not yet screened Steven Spielberg's highly anticipated World War I drama, "War Horse," for U.S. critics, nor have Paramount's Stephen Daldry 9/11 drama, "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close," or the Weinstein Co.'s Margaret Thatcher film, "The Iron Lady," been unveiled for early viewing. All three movies are set for release in December.

The National Board of Review, which has historically been the first to reveal its top picks of the year, will make its selection public Dec. 1, three days after the New York Film Critics Circle announces its choices. The Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. will announce its picks on Dec. 11 or 12.

Whether this move prompts the other organizations to move up their dates remains to be seen, but with the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences signaling that it will ultimately move up the Oscars ceremony, pushing the critics' lists to earlier in the season maybe isn't such a bad idea.

-- Nicole Sperling


Meryl Streep flashes her mettle in "Iron Lady"

Watch "War Horse" trot into the awards derby

Photo: Andrew Cooper in Steven Spielberg's upcoming drama, "War Horse" Credit: DreamWorks

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

October 14, 2011 | 12:25 pm

American filmmaker Joshua Marston knew from the beginning that making his second feature "The Forgiveness of Blood" in Albania would be a challenge. The film, which received a Silver Bear for screenwriting at the Berlin Film Festival, depicts a family feud between two neighboring families in the southeastern European country. In an effort to make the film as authentic to its locale as possible,  Marston wrote the script with Albanian Andamion Murataj and says he hired as many Albanian crew and cast members as possible.  

But in the end it wasn't enough for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which deemed the film ineligible for the foreign-language Oscar race because it had extensive participation from non-Albanians. The academy has forced the Albanian film committee to choose another film as its official choice for the foreign-language category, and it selected Bujar Alimani's "Amnesty."

The move has frustrated Marston, who when reached by phone in New York on Thursday afternoon said it is impossible to film in Albania without using crew members from other nations.

“In Albania, there isn't a big film industry so all the films shot there bring in crew. Every movie made in Albania uses a DP [director of photography] from outside the country, same is true of editors, and sound mixers. You can’t judge whether the film is Albanian based on the crew list. We tried to employ as many Albanians as we could."

Marston did have one Albanian heading a department -- the costume designer. Marston argues that in order to offset the fact that he's not Albanian, he relied on creative participation from lower-level Albanian crew members. "For example, the production designer was more reliant on all the people in his department, creatively, to make sure that things looked and felt Albanian.”

Mark Johnson, a producer who heads up the Foreign Language Committee at the academy, says that while he feels for Marston's plight, there are strict rules in place to ensure that countries don't try to game the system.

“In a perfect world, this category wouldn’t exist and it wouldn’t matter what language the film is in," said Johnson. "But it's an imperfect world and we have to have some rules in place.”

The committee, he says, places particular emphasis on the nationality of the film's director.

“We believe that the director is the most important creative element in making a film and we give enormous weight to the nationality of the director," said Johnson, who is currently in Northern California working on Curtis Hanson's surf movie "Mavericks." "In the abstract, if it were just a director who wasn’t from the submitting country but all the other key creative controls were local artists or filmmakers, there’s a good possibility we would have accepted that film.”

Alas, that was not the case with "The Forgiveness of Blood," which IFC Films will unveil in the U.S. later this year. Not only is Marston from the United States but his producer, Paul Mezey, is as well. Marston's collaborator Murataj, who worked closely with Marston on the project since its inception, received a co-producer credit on the film, but the academy only recognizes the full producer credit. 

Marston said that Artan Minarolli, head of the Albanian National Center for Cinematography, had a few lengthy conversations with the academy to ensure that choosing "Forgiveness of Blood," which was shot entirely in Albania, in the Albanian language, would fulfill the foreign-language requirements. Minarolli did not return call for comment.

Said Marston: "I don't know if the academy realizes how frustrated people in Albania are. They are sad and disappointed and disenchanted with the process."

Once the country's choice was ruled ineligible,the members of Albania's film committee reconvened and chose Alimani's "Amnesty." Alimani had previously written a letter to the academy decrying his nation's film choice of "Forgiveness," arguing that an American's film should not be eligible as the country's selection.

Johnson said Alimani's letter didn't influence his committee's decision.

It's the second such experience for Marston. His debut effort, "Maria Full of Grace," was chosen by Colombia as its entry in 2004, but it was also ruled ineligible. He said he finds the rules dogmatic.

“I don't understand why the academy is in the business of adjudicating the citizenship of a film. Why can’t the submitting countries be given the authority and autonomy to decide for themselves what films best represent them? Why would it be so threatening to the process of the academy to let that happen?”


Christian Bale film among 63 vying for foreign-language Oscar

Oscar submission deadline for foreign-language films

Joshua Marston heads for farther shores

--Nicole Sperling

Photo credit: Joshua Marston at the Toronto International Film Festival. Credit: Aaron Harris/Getty Images



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