24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: 50 Shades of Grey

Obama on 'The Avengers,' Kardashians, 'Fifty Shades of Grey'

May 15, 2012 |  1:06 pm

Obama on the view
Perhaps he is actually the first pop culture president. President Obama appeared on ABC's "The View" Tuesday for an interview in which he discussed Wall Street, gay marriage and the Hulk.

Co-host Joy Behar administered a zeitgeist quiz to the president during the show, taped Monday, asking him to name three characters from "The Avengers." "I just saw it, so this is easy," Obama said. "You've got the Hulk, Captain America, Iron Man."

Asked which Kardashian was married for 72 days, the president answered correctly, "That would be Kim." Obama quickly explained his knowledge of the reality star as accidental. "Because he was a ballplayer," he said, referring to Kardashian's ex-husband, NBA player Kris Humphries. "That’s how I know, from watching basketball." 

Obama has made entertainment programs an increasingly important venue for his public appearances. In 2010 he became the first sitting president to appear on a daytime talk show when he visited "The View," and last month he talked about student loans on "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon." Such shows are a way to reach demographic groups key to the president's re-election campaign — women and young people.

A record-setting fundraiser at George Clooney's Studio City home last week also relied on the president's Hollywood ties: Organizers used the joint star power of Obama and Clooney to lure campaign donations from tens of thousands of participants in an online contest vying to attend.

On "The View" episode that aired Tuesday, the commander in chief seemed pretty pop culture savvy for a man with a country to run and a hotly contested campaign underway — he said he DVRs the shows "Mad Men" and "Homeland" for viewing on his long flights.

But the president did miss some questions. He didn't know that Jessica Simpson had recently had a baby, and he deflected a query on the hot-selling erotic novel "Fifty Shades of Grey." When asked "What’s the controversial sex book that’s on millions of women’s bedside tables?" the president said: "I don't know that. I’ll ask Michelle when I get home."




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— Rebecca Keegan


Photo: Barbara Walters, left, President Obama and Joy Behar on "The View." Credit: ABC.

'Fifty Shades' author admits she's 'not a great writer'

April 17, 2012 | 12:14 pm

Tuesday is a big day for "Fifty Shades of Grey" fans as the second and third books in the steamy series arrive at booksellers across the nation. The first book from first-time British author E.L. James is a phenomenon already, read voraciously by women around the world. The books have been optioned by Universal Pictures.

The self-deprecating James did her first on-camera interview about the series on NBC's "Today" show Tuesday morning, and the fortysomething says she's as mystified by the popularity of the books as many commentators across the country. She calls the series her "midlife crisis writ large," a daily obsession that consumed her life for two years while she was writing the three books.

Although the series has women all hot and bothered, James says that nothing in the series is revolutionary. "I'm stunned by its popularity," said James. "I'm not a great writer."


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Gifted wordsmith or not, James has kick-started a phenomenon that has extended well beyond book sales. Many women have taken James' graphic sex scenes between the young, virginal college grad Anastasia Steele and her domineering older boyfriend Christian Grey as practical suggestions and have started visiting sex shops to augment their props in the bedroom.

The Pleasure Chest in West Hollywood will hold a "Fifty Shades of Pleasure" workshop next month in its store, while another sex shop, Shag, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, is partnering with BDSM (bondage, discipline, dominance, submission, sadism, masochism)  instructors the Domi Dollz to teach interested women about the power dynamics of a dominant-submissive relationship. ABC's "20/20" plans to do a segment on the women-only session.

"People have always been interested in exploring that type of sexual relationship," said Samantha Bard, 37, co-owner of Shag. "What I think is happening now is that it's becoming OK to talk about it now."

For more on the "Fifty Shades" phenomenon, check out our story here.


'Fifty Shades of Grey' has studios hot and bothered

'Fifty Shaes of Grey' aims for the movies

-- Nicole Sperling

Photo: E.L. James Credit: Vintage Books


'Fifty Shades of Grey': Who should direct?

March 30, 2012 | 10:29 pm

  Who should direct '50 Shades of Grey'?
E.L. James, the author of the erotic e-book “Fifty Shades of Grey,” created a stir when Universal Pictures and Focus Features acquired the film rights to her trilogy of explicit books earlier this week. The series tells of a chaste college graduate named Anastasia Steele and the S&M-inflected romance she finds herself in with dashing billionaire Christian Grey.

“Shades” was a hot property in more ways than one, having already sold gazillions of copies to discreet, Kindle-carrying women all over the English-speaking world.

But now begins a more arduous process: attaching a filmmaker. Given the provocative nature of the subject matter, finding the right helmer won’t be easy. Allow us to offer a few suggestions:

Michael Bay. Sure, James’ book had plenty of raunchy sex. But where were the things moviegoers really care about, like secret government-created alien-fighting machines? “Grey” will be jazzed up considerably with the addition of Autobots and Decepticons, a true story of opposites. There is, after all, no tale of becoming quite like the tale of a car becoming a robot. Grey inflicts hurt on his partner using 30-ton robots, which brings nearly as much pain as watching a Michael Bay movie.

Nicolas Refn. Christian Grey wears a scorpion jacket and eats toothpicks. He and his lover take long drives to nowhere over '80s electropop. Forks are jammed into various body parts. The movie reaches a crescendo in its piece de resistance love scene, which takes place backward.

Marc Webb. Young Christian Grey works at a greeting card company and, when he’s not getting advice from his impossibly precocious sister or angsting about the state of his romantic life, kicks back with a little office karaoke. Anastasia Steele is an ethereal presence who doesn’t believe in love. They enter a complex relationship in which he decides to cause her pain, largely by playing her Morrissey songs over and over.

Judd Apatow. Every hot romance needs a little bromance. Apatow's "Fifty Shades" has Anastasia feeling neglected -- all Christian wants to do is smoke pot and talk about comic-book superheroes with his buddies. Challenges further ensue when Anastasia begins to question why anyone would want to be in an S&M relationship with Seth Rogen. All is resolved, however, when Christian and his friends take a break from trash-talking each other long enough for a tearful airport scene. The movie is notable for being the first Apatow film he doesn't want his wife to star in.

Sofia Coppola. Focus could reach into its own vaults and pull out “Somewhere” helmer Sofia Coppola. Grey and Steele live in a hotel. Sometimes they order room service. A car goes endlessly around a track. Someone cooks breakfast. The movie ends.

Martin Scorsese. Christian Grey begins the film by ordering mob hits on various members of Steele’s family, because she double-crossed the people who double-crossed her double-crossers. In fact, the hero is about to order a hit on Steele when he realizes that she owns an early 20th century print of Julien Duvivier's “La Belle Equipe,” which, Grey tells her, no human being should ever be without. He then gives her a three-hour lecture on the importance of preserving early cinema. She finds it a peculiar form of torture.


'50 Shades of Grey' aims for the movies

Bestselling 'mommy porn': '50 Shades of Grey'

'50 Shades of Grey' has studios hot and bothered

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: "Fifty Shades of Grey." Credit: Vintage Books

'Fifty Shades of Grey' aims for the movies

March 26, 2012 | 11:19 am

The principals behind “Fifty Shades of Grey,” the erotic ebook that has become a literary sensation, have sold film rights to the novel and its two sequels to Universal Pictures and its Focus Features division. The sale means that one of the most buzzed-about books in years will become a film -- although with no writer, director, cast or production timetable in place, it could be several years before the movie hits multiplexes, if at all.

Centering on an S&M-heavy relationship between chaste recent college graduate Anastasia Steele and a 27-year-old billionaire named Christian Grey, E.L. James' “Fifty Shades” has become a New York Times bestseller exclusively on electronic book platforms, with the books being read and discussed among various circles of women, many of them mothers. (Paperback copies for what is dubbed “mommy porn” hit stores next month via Random House’s Vintage Books.)

Universal's Donna Langley and Adam Fogelson called the trilogy a "one-of-a-kind series of stories," while Focus Features' James Schamus called it "a romance of the most emotionally resonant, but delicate, order." Deal terms were not disclosed, though numbers as high as several million dollars have been reported.

James and her agent Valerie Hoskins had kickstarted a frenzy among Hollywood studios several weeks ago,  with Paramount Pictures going so far as to create a video featuring female employees explaining what the book meant to them, while a Fox 2000 producer flew to London to make her pitch. Universal,  which outmaneuvered more than half a dozen studios to land the racy property, gave its initial pitch last Monday.

While the Universal/Focus team was not considered a front-runner as the race unfolded, the company offered the scale of a studio and the nurturing more common at a specialty division. Focus also has a history of handling sexually provocative material, releasing the Chinese wartime romance “Lust, Caution” and the gay western “Brokeback Mountain.” (James intends to be involved with many aspects of the production, said one person familiar with the pitch who was not authorized to talk about it publicly.)

Executives who pursued the book described a story that tapped into the forbidden romance of “Twilight” and recalled the explicit sex scenes of “9½ Weeks,” the Mickey Rourke-Kim Basinger 1980s erotic drama. But it was hard to ignore the effect that the outsize box office this weekend for  “The Hunger Games,” another female-oriented book franchise, had on the sales mania.

And though the “Grey” female audience is older than "Twilight’s" core demographic, studio executives think the books play on the same virtues: a chaste young woman, a slightly dangerous man and a forbidden romance. (Indeed, the book originated as “Twilight” fan fiction.)

Still, although no executive wants to be held accountable for missing out on a literary phenomenon -- when it first went out, “The Hunger Games” generated interest from only a handful of studios, while Paramount opted not to turn “Twilight” into a film, to its ultimate chagrin -- it's unclear that "50 Shades of Grey" will have the same broad appeal as those hits. It’s unclear, for instance, whether producers can eliminate some of the book’s racier scenes to land an R rating without diluting the essence of the novels, as well as whether individual readers will want to share a private, guilty pleasure in the communal setting of a movie theater.

With the book and its sequels, “Fifty Shades Darker” and “Fifty Shades Freed,” now sold to Hollywood, the online guessing game will begin over who will play Steele. Already, the names Shailene Woodley and Dakota Fanning have surfaced; expect a lot more to get bandied around in the coming months.


Bestselling 'mommy porn': '50 Shades of Grey'

'50 Shades of Grey' has studios hot and bothered

Does '21 Jump Street' prove the '80s naysayers wrong?

--Steven Zeitchik and Nicole Sperling


Photo: "Fifty Shades of Grey." Credit: Vintage Books

'50 Shades of Grey' has studios hot and bothered

March 20, 2012 |  5:09 pm

'50 Shades of Grey'

Hollywood's top studios are rolling out the red carpet for little-known British author named E.L. James, the woman behind an overnight literary phenomenon titled "50 Shades of Grey."

The first in the trilogy of erotic e-books about a virginal recent college graduate and her lurid relationship with a billionaire in his late 20s, James' "Grey" has become a sensation among female readers. Now the studios are eager to capitalize on the popularity of the novel, hoping to retell the story on the big screen.

Over the last few days, top executives from Warner Bros., Sony Pictures, Fox 2000, Universal and Paramount have -- or will -- deliver presentations, some of them highly elaborate, to convince James and her literary agent Valerie Hoskins that they are the best candidates to transform the popular material into a movie. (The three books are being sold as a package and would be developed as a potential franchise by the winning bidder.)

One person familiar with the pitch who asked not to be identified because of the sensitive nature of negotiations told 24 Frames that, to convince James and Hoskins to go with them, Paramount Pictures executives put together a video featuring female executives reacting positively to the novels. (In an odd turn, Adam Goodman, president of the studio's film group, is bidding on the project against his wife, Jessica Goodman, who serves as executive vice president of Fox 2000 under Elizabeth Gabler.)

Meanwhile, Warner Bros. president of production Greg Silverman decided to go after the rights after the female executives at the company were espousing the book's steamy virtues, in addition to the personal endorsements he received from his wife and mother-in-law.

Universal Pictures Donna Langley and production exec Tracy Falco gave their pitch Monday, along with Sony's Amy Pascal. [Update, 5:32 pm, Tuesday: The majority of the studios already met with the author and her agent. Individual producers are scheduled to meet with the sellers later in the week. Red Wagon, Imagine Entertainment, Scott Stuber Productions and Adam Shankman’s Offspring Entertainment are among the contenders to land the property. A person familiar with negotiations said bids from all interested parties will be accepted by the sellers on Friday.]

The studios think the racy material can be turned into a movie a la “9 1/2 Weeks,” the sexy Mickey Rourke-Kim Basinger film from the 1980s that slowly grew into a home-video and international phenomenon. Others argue that this novel is actually a "female empowerment story" where a young woman is awakened sexually by the unconventional methods of her older, controlling lover.

James, a TV executive and mother of two, developed the “Grey” books from fan fiction she wrote online in tribute to Stephenie Meyer's "Twilight" novels. The first “Grey” book has hit the New York Times bestseller list despite the dearth of physical copies in the marketplace. (A small Australian publisher first printed a small run of copies and Vintage Books, the division of Random House, will release all three titles in paperback April 17.)

The books are being read and discussed among circles of women, many of them mothers, around the country, including those who normally read more, er, upscale fiction. (The "Grey" books have been branded by some as “Mommy porn.”) Writing on Amazon, even a reader who identified himself as an older male noted the titillation factor. "My arthritis flared up just reading about [the female character's] sexual gymnastics," he wrote.

Though the “Grey” female audience is older than "Twilight’s" core demographic, studio executives think the books play on the same virtues: a young virginal woman, a slightly dangerous man and a forbidden romance.

While no executive wants to be held accountable for missing out on a literary phenomenon, it's unclear that "50 Shades of Grey" will have the same broad appeal as the “Twilight” films. At the story’s center is Christian Grey, the manipulative male lead, whose damaged sexual upbringing prompts him to engage in relationships exclusively with women who agree to become his submissive. (He asks his partners to sign an exhaustive contract before engaging in any sexual activity with them.) Naive college grad Anastasia Steele is conflicted about joining Grey in his world, and struggles with his rigid rules and sometime abusive behavior.

Several readers of the book say that its appeal lies in the fact that one can read it on devices like the Kindle or iPad without anyone else knowing what they're reading; whether that will play in a public setting like a movie theater is an open question. Also unclear is whether producers can eliminate some of the book’s racier sex scenes to land an R rating without diluting the essence of the novels.

One studio executive said that, as a result, the budget was being scaled down: The movie would cost between $35 and $40 million, more along the lines of the first “Twilight” film and considerably lower than the franchise’s recent sequels.


Bestselling 'mommy porn': '50 Shades of Grey'

Does '21 Jump Street' prove the '80s naysayers wrong?

Hollywood flop sweat: What caused the latest box-office duds?

-- Nicole Sperling and Steven Zeitchik


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