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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Avatar

Trailer music: The sounds that marketed Spock, Spidey and more

April 8, 2012 |  5:00 am

Star Trek, Spider-Man 2 & Avatar

From the orchestra that backs the Starship Enterprise to the choirs that follow Spider-Man swinging through New York City, music for trailers has drawn a larger public spotlight in recent years with the releases of previews becoming higher-profile events.

In Sunday's Calendar section, we explore the fact that much of the music featured in advertising for movies is produced by trailer music libraries. These companies compose music (typically one- to three-minute tracks) for clients at studios and trailer editing houses, who then select pieces from the libraries’ albums to license for use in previews.

Here are the stories of how some of that music attracted fan followings for four of those libraries.

“Star Trek” (Trailer music library: Two Steps From Hell)
The third trailer for J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek” set records, as it was viewed more than 1.8 million times during its first 24 hours on apple.com in March 2009. Featuring the track “Freedom Fighters” by Two Steps From Hell, the preview put the Los Angeles-based trailer music library on the map.

In a deviation from most trailers that include multiple cues of music, the majestic yet ethereal track plays throughout the preview. “That gave people some time to latch onto the music,” said Thomas Bergersen, co-founder of Two Steps From Hell.

“Avatar” (Trailer music library: Audiomachine)
Later in 2009, “Avatar” broke “Star Trek’s” record with the teaser trailer for the soon-to-be box office king. It was viewed more than 4 million times during its first day on apple.com. So the rest of its marketing campaign had a lot of early hype to live up to. Twentieth Century Fox hired several trailer editing houses to try their hand at cutting advertising for the film before the studio decided on Culver City-based company Wild Card.

“When we were dealing with something that was as out of the box as 'Avatar,' it's often great to have multiple sets of eyes and different perspectives looking at it because there are many ways to attack it,” said “Avatar” producer Jon Landau. “By going out to a couple different trailer companies, we were able to see how different people looked at the material, which was very helpful.”

The first full-length trailer for “Avatar” featured the tracks “Akkadian Empire” and “Guardians at the Gate,” both by Beverly Hills-based library Audiomachine. Nick Temple, owner of Wild Card, said of the latter track, “While it was still big and felt like it was a huge ride, there was still an emotional sense to it.”

Watch the trailer below, where “Akkadian Empire” begins one minute and six seconds in, followed by “Guardians at the Gate,” which plays through the end. (The first music cue is from the score for Michael Bay’s “The Island.”)

“Spider-Man 2” (Trailer music library: Immediate Music)
In 2004, the marketing for Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man 2” pushed Immediate Music (one of the first trailer music libraries, founded in 1993) into a bigger public spotlight. Their track “Lacrimosa Dominae” plays from 1:50 to the end of the trailer below.

“The last 45 seconds of the trailer, they blasted the music –- there were no sound effects… no dialog, no narration,” said Yoav Goren, president of Immediate. “So it was really one of the first times you could really hear a trailer track on its own. And I think that also spurred people wanting to buy this stuff.”

The track is on one of Immediate’s public release albums, “Trailerhead.”

“How to Train Your Dragon” (Trailer music library: Future World Music)
Future World Music’s rousing and adventure-ready track “Dream Chasers” fueled the second half of the trailer for “How to Train Your Dragon.” The track runs from 1:09 to 1:57 in the video below.

“That was one of the big campaigns that I think really blew the door off for us,” said Future World owner Armen Hambar. “We just couldn’t believe how much of a response we got.”


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– Emily Rome


Photo: Trailers for J.J. Abrams' "Star Trek," "Spider-Man 2" and "Avatar" have featured music composed by trailer music libraries. Credits: (from left) Paramount Pictures, Columbia Pictures, 20th Century Fox.

‘Avatar 2:’ How long will we realistically have to wait?

April 6, 2012 |  5:27 pm


James Cameron junkies get their fix this weekend with the release of “Titanic 3-D.” But how long will moviegoers have to wait for something new from the master of the interplanetary and the blue-tailed?

When it initially announced "Avatar 2" a little over a year ago, studio Fox was hopeful for a 2014 release. But Jon Landau, Cameron's producing partner and sometime interview-giver-in-chief, created a small stir this week when he told the website Empire that the sequel, which is expected to take place largely underwater, may not be ready until 2015.

"We're not naming dates, but I think 2014 will be a tough date for us to make. It's about getting it right," said Landau, noting that effects work has begun on the film. (Landau added that "movies make release dates; release dates don't make movies," a position that only a studio filmmaker named James Cameron has the luxury of taking.)

Landau's  comments sounded alarm bells throughout the blogosphere, though the truth is that it's more optimistic than the date range the producer offered in his last round of interviews, when he intimated it could be 2016 before the film is ready.

Cameron isn’t known for speed at this stage of his career. Though he made four movies between 1989 and 1997, it took him 12 years to get his next movie completed, with "Avatar" not hitting theaters until 2009.

Cameron's meticulous work style is amplified by his clout — studios wouldn’t generally tolerate years of waiting from, well, nearly any other filmmaker. It helps to have the two highest-grossing movies of all time ("Avatar" and "Titanic").

Also not moving things along is the fact that Cameron has been spending a lot of time lately under the sea. After journeying solo to the depths of the Mariana Trench, he’s next joining up with a crew in Guam, where he'll make two more dives. Then he’ll come up for air and begin pre-production on “Avatar 2.” As the filmmaker conceded to my colleague Rebecca Keegan recently, "My purpose in making a movie is to make enough money so I can dive.”

Add to these factors the new film’s underwater setting and all the logistics that implies, and don't be surprised if 2016 is where we end up. A James Cameron release is often just around the corner, except not quite.


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Will the world be overcome by Titanic fever again?

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--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: "Avatar." Credit: 20th Century Fox

Oscars 2012: 'Separation' director says Iranians care about Oscars

February 27, 2012 |  9:15 am


Though it was the middle of the night in Iran when “A Separation” was named the best foreign-language film of the year, Oscar-winning director Asghar Farhadi said he was confident many of the country’s people were awake to watch the telecast.

“People in Iran follow the Oscars a lot more than you think they do,” the filmmaker said through a translator backstage. “And perhaps the reason why they follow it this year so closely is because by every means it is a cultural event for them and they would like to hear the name of their country through culture.”

Farhadi said he hoped the prize would send a message to the Iranian people that “cultural activities are the most important factors that we need to stick to in Iran.” He was proud, he added, that the movie helped send a “clear” rather than a “vague image” to the rest of the world.

PHOTOS: Red carpet arrivals | Quotes | Winners | Best & Worst

“What happens in this film is not specific to a region or geography, and perhaps this is the reason why this film is understandable to people around the world,” he added.

As for the Iranian government’s reaction to the film — about what happens after a couple files for divorce — the director said he was unsure of how they would respond to the award.

“The Iranian government is not unanimous at all,” he explained. "When this film was nominated, some were very happy and some were silent. To me, what matters is that the people of Iran are happy.”


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— Amy Kaufman


Photo: Asghar Farhadi with his Oscar for best foreign-language film backstage at the 84th  Academy Awards. Credit: Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times.

Golden Globes: Meryl Streep wins for best actress in a drama

January 15, 2012 |  7:36 pm

Meryl Streep and the 2012 Golden Globes winners

Meryl Streep won lead actress in a drama at the 69th Golden Globes ceremony for her starring role as former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in director Phyllida Lloyd's biopic "The Iron Lady." The biopic is Streep's second pairing with Lloyd: The 54-year-old theater director's first film was the 2008 Golden-Globe musical "Mamma Mia!" which grossed $600 million worldwide and is Streep's biggest box office hit. "Iron Lady," which unfolds as a series of reminiscences by Thatcher as she attempts to sort the belongings of her late husband, was partially inspired by a 2008 memoir by Thatcher's daughter, Carol, "A Swim-on Part in the Goldfish Bowl."


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 --Rebecca Keegan

Photo: Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher in "The Iron Lady." Credit: The Weinstein Co.

Technology behind ‘Avatar,’ ‘Incredible Hulk’ honored by academy

January 5, 2012 |  1:19 pm


Some recent innovators of equipment that made films such as “Avatar” and “The Incredible Hulk” possible will be honored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences next month. Six Scientific and Engineering Awards were announced Thursday:

John D. Lowry, Ian Cavén, Ian Godin, Kimball Thurston and Tim Connolly will receive the award for the development of a unique and efficient system for the reduction of noise and other artifacts, thereby providing high-quality images required by the filmmaking process. (The system was used on “Avatar,” “U2 3D,” “Journey to the Center of the Earth 3-D.”)

E.F. “Bob” Nettmann will be recognized for the concept and system architecture, Michael Sayovitz for the electronic packaging and integration, Brad Fritzel for the electronic engineering, and Fred Miller for the mechanical engineering of the Stab-C Classic, Super-G and Stab-C Compact stabilizing heads. (Used on “The Incredible Hulk,” “Gamer,” “My Bloody Valentine 3-D.”)

Radu Corlan, Andy Jantzen, Petru Pop and Richard Toftness will be recognized for the design and engineering of the Phantom family of high-speed cameras for motion picture production. Phantom HD Gold was used in Bud Light, Sunbeam and Samsonite commercials.

Jürgen Noffke will be recognized for the optical design and Uwe Weber for the mechanical design of the ARRI Zeiss Master Prime Lenses for motion picture photography.

Michael Lewis, Greg Marsden, Raigo Alas and Michael Vellekoop will receive an award for the concept, design and implementation of the Pictorvision Eclipse, an electronically stabilized aerial camera platform. (Used in the 2011CBS Sports’ Masters Golf Tournament telecast.)

Fujifilm Corp., Hideyuki Shirai, Dr. Katsuhisa Oozeki and Hiroshi Hirano will receive an award for the design and development of the Fujifilm black and white recording film Eterna-RDS 4791 for use in the archival preservation of film and digital images.

In addition, a Technical Achievement Award will go to Andrew Clinton and Mark Elendt for inventing mico-voxels in the Mantra software, which improved rendering of volumetric effects such as smoke and clouds, the academy said. The creators of the Arrilaser Film Recorder, Franz Kraus, Johannes Steurer and Wolfgang Riedel, will also be honored with an Academy Award of Merit.

The awards will be presented at the academy’s Scientific and Technical Awards event at the Beverly Wilshire on Feb. 11.


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-– Emily Rome

 Photo: John D. Lowry will be among the honorees for the "Lowry Process," which was used to enhance images in James Cameron's 2009 blockbuster, "Avatar." Credit: WETA / 20th Century Fox.

Zoe Saldana: 'Apes' is picking up the 'Avatar' mantle

August 8, 2011 |  2:22 pm

Zoe Saldana, who starred in Avatar, is glad motion-capture technology is spreading

While on the promotional circuit for "Avatar" a little more than a year ago, actress Zoe Saldana devoted a healthy amount of time to explaining how the performance-capture technology in the film worked.

The James Cameron-directed movie, of course, broke new ground with the technology, in which an actor's performance is recorded and later layered with computer imagery. This weekend, audiences embraced "Rise of the Planet of the Apes," a new film that employs a smilar method with the help of the same company, Weta Digital. Saldana said she's heartened by how quickly public acceptance has taken hold.

"Part of growing and being on this earth is evolving -- and not only do we evolve as people by trying to be better people, but we also want to evolve our technology and the way we view art and interpret films," the actress said from the red carpet of the Teen Choice Awards, which she attended Sunday night to promote her upcoming film, "Colombiana." (You can watch a video of the interview below.)

"Motion capture definitely is like this new wave of making films that still keeps that awe-ness of filmmaking without compromising that with our mortality. And you still get an amazing performance and everything."

"Apes" actor Andy Serkis' performance as a chimp  is already sparking award buzz, and Saldana said she's hopeful that categories will become "more open to the technological aspects, the same way you would want to see more comedies and more horror movies with awards."

"Colombiana"  -- an action thriller written by Luc Besson that is out later this month -- doesn't involve performance-capture technology. But Saldana said it blazes other paths.

"I like the fact that it's a typical story about revenge, but told through the eyes of a woman without compromising the level of violence that a theme like this would entail."


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--Amy Kaufman


Photo: Zoe Saldana at the 2011 Teen Choice Awards. Credit: Reuters/Danny Moloshok.

James Cameron, scientist-in-chief?

March 25, 2011 |  5:11 pm


Maybe James Cameron will have to settle for just making movies.

Well, for now.

The science-minded filmmaker had been building a 3-D camera for Mars rover Curiosity that he said would give us a better look at the Red Planet.

But the Associated Press reported Friday that NASA is stopping work on the zoom camera because there won't be enough time to test it before Curiosity launches later this year.

The move calls to mind other Hollywood personalities who have offered their help on public-works projects, notably Kevin Costner developing a device that earlier this year he said could have capped the BP oil spill (it didn't). Cameron himself was part of a government "listening session" on the disaster.

The director did say in a statement Friday that he hopes the camera technology he's developing still will be used on future space missions. In the meantime, we suppose, we'll have to live with Curiosity's images of blue-faced Zoe Saldana lookalikes in 2-D only.

-- Steven Zeitchik


How James Cameron will spend his non-avatar time

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Photo: James Cameron. Credit: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times

How James Cameron will spend his non-'Avatar' time

February 1, 2011 | 10:46 am

James Cameron may be throwing his "Avatar" sequels into a higher gear, writing and prepping movies so they'll be ready for release by 2014 and 2015. But over the coming months he'll also kick-start a busy side career as a mentor and producer.

Before he starts working in earnest on "Avatar," Cameron will be steering a trio of other films.

They include Guillermo del Toro's adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft's Arctic thriller "At the Mountains of Madness," a reboot of medical action-adventure "Fantastic Voyage" and a live-action 3-D film centered on Cirque de Soleil that will deploy some of the 3-D technology he used to shoot "Avatar."

The Del Toro film is on track to start shooting in June, and "Fantastic Voyage" will proceed shortly after that. But neither, he said, should impinge on his "Avatar" schedule. "Those both ['Mountains' and 'Voyage'] should be largely through the pipeline before I have to take the phone off the hook and get singularly focused on the two 'Avatar' films," Cameron said in an interview with 24 Frames.

The first product of Cameron's new spate of producing efforts can be seen Friday with the opening of "Sanctum," a 3-D underwater thriller set in Australia; for more on his unusual decision to get involved with that movie -- which includes a desire to demonstrate that 3-D can be just as effective in intimate stories as in big-canvas ones -- please see our recent print story.

As for "Madness," Cameron downplays his input on the genre film. "Guillermo doesn’t need a lot of help," Cameron said. "He’s a pretty self-contained, visionary guy, does his own writing, works with a team of designers. He’s certainly not going to need me to come to the set."

So why did he jump in? "It was working with [Del Toro] and Universal to try to figure out the best, most efficient way to shoot the film and act as a shuttle diplomat more than anything to keep the momentum going on the project."

But don't expect the producing activity to continue when this little streak ends.

All of this behind-the-scenes activity is uncharacteristic for a man who prefers to immerse himself in his own films, and when his latest three projects are done, he'll be stepping back from his patron role.

“The recent decision I made is, I don’t really want to produce movies [that I don't direct] anymore,” Cameron said. “It makes sense to do these films to prove a point, but that’s not something I see myself doing 10 years from now.”

-- Rebecca Keegan


 Photo: James Cameron at the "Sanctum" premiere. Credit: Fred Prouser / Reuters

A pair of 'Avatar' sequels is on its way from James Cameron

October 27, 2010 |  9:11 am

James Cameron has set his return trip to Pandora.

Fox announced Wednesday morning that "Avatar 2" and "Avatar 3," the sequels to last year's science-fiction blockbuster, will be James Cameron's next films, with the director beginning work on the scripts in early 2011. Production on "Avatar 2" could begin as soon as late '11, with the movie likely in theaters in December 2014, according to Fox.

Although it was widely believed that Cameron had many ideas for "Avatar 2" and wanted to begin work on it shortly, the fact that it would be his priority -- and that the studio was planning on a third film as well -- represents a major development. With his heavily developed story lines and intensive use of new technology, Cameron can often take a decade or longer between films.

Fox said in its announcement that Cameron has not made a decision about whether to shoot the two films back to back but that he well could, which would allow "Avatar 3" to come out as early as December 2015.

There was little detail about the plot for the new movies. "Avatar" ended with Jake (Sam Worthington) joining the Na'avi and fighting off the invasion of human armed forces led by Col. Quaritch (Stephen Lang).

Cameron did say in a statement that the movies "will be self-contained stories that also fulfill a greater story arc" and that "we will not back off the throttle of 'Avatar's' visual and emotional horsepower and will continue to explore its themes and characters."

It's also not known how many of the original cast members will return, though it is all but assured both movies will be in 3-D. Cameron's writing partners also remain a question; Laeta Kalogridis ("Shutter Island") contributed heavily to the script for the first film.

The original "Avatar," which came out in December and played through the winter, was a global phenomenon that grossed about $2.8 billion worldwide. Cameron's work will also be coming back to the big screen with a 3-D rerelease of "Titanic," which is expected to hit theaters in April 2012.

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Avatar. Credit: 20th Century Fox


'Aftershock,' China's domestic box-office champ, finds a way to U.S. theaters

October 26, 2010 |  5:57 pm

"Aftershock," China's highest-grossing domestic film of all time, has found a way into U.S. theaters. The movie, which played at the Toronto International Film Festival, will open at selected AMC theaters across the country Friday. Earlier this month, China Lion Film Distribution announced a partnership with AMC Entertainment to introduce mainstream Chinese films to American audiences.

Directed by one of the country's most popular directors, Feng Xiaogang, "Aftershock" revolves around the aftermath of the massive 1976 Tangshan earthquake.

Made for $20 million, which is a big budget by Chinese cinema standards, "Aftershock" was released in 5,000 standard and 14 IMAX theaters this summer in China. By August, it had outgrossed "The Founding of a Republic" to become the most successful Chinese film with nearly $80 million in ticket sales. ("Avatar" remains the all-time king of the Chinese box office, with more than $200 million in sales.) "Aftershock" is also China's official entry in the foreign-language Oscar category.

Locally, "Aftershock" will be playing in Arcadia, the City of Industry, Monterey Park and Tustin. Watch the trailer below.

-- Susan King



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