24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Mark Boal

How should Hollywood react to the killing of Osama bin Laden?

May 2, 2011 |  8:31 pm

The death of Osama bin Laden at the hands of a U.S. strike force makes for some captivating storytelling, and throughout Hollywood on Monday, discussions reverberated  about how to turn the news into a captivating movie.

As we report in a story in Tuesday's Times, the movie business is in a bind. Executives and filmmakers sense an opportunity -- the Bin Laden killing is one of the few post-9/11 military tales with a satisfying conclusion for American audiences. But it's also tough to make a story suspenseful when everyone on the planet knows how it ends.

Some saw a big commercial play in the Bin Laden strike, so long as any potential film avoids, well, darkness or nuance (darkness and nuance being that things that may have doomed the box-office fortunes of a host of Iraq and Afghanistan war movies). “You need a big star and a lot of action, something the audience can cheer for,” said one longtime studio marketing executive. Call it the U-S-A version of the film, and one that a Sylvester Stallone could adapt, with only some liberties, for the upcoming "Expendables" sequel.

Another action movie in the works that might be ripe for a Bin Laden plot element: Tony Scott's film based on TV's “24.” Kiefer Sutherland's Jack Bauer of course is a shrewd and lethal government counter-terrorism agent whose storylines often parallel current events. Fans already seemed to be sending Scott a message on Sunday night: Shortly after President Obama announced Bin Laden had been killed, “Jack Bauer” was a trending topic on Twitter.

But others in Hollywood, including Bryan Singer, who directed “Valkyrie” — the 2008 Tom Cruise movie about an elite group conspiring to kill Hitler — said they saw in the Bin Laden saga a chance for something more detail- and character-driven.

"I could see a kind of ‘All the President’s Men,’ where we track moments of intelligence and how agents followed the trail,” he said. “Just because we know how the story ends doesn’t mean it can’t be interesting or exciting.”

Perhaps the most interesting case is a planned movie from Mark Boal and Kathryn Bigelow, the writer-director team behind "The Hurt Locker." Based on a book about the search for Bin Laden in Tora Bora after 9/11 (a manhunt with a rather different feel and finish), their untitled film will get, according to one person familiar with it, "new context" and a new ending in the wake of Sunday's news.

If their film was at a studio, Sunday's news may have well got the project hung up in committee, as executives debated how and whether to tackle the subject. But because it's being financed independently (by Larry Ellison's daughter Megan Ellison), it could still shoot as early as this summer. (There's plenty on the line, and not just culturally; according to one studio executive who heard the pitch, it's budgeted between $20-$25 million.)

From Israeli-raid  tale “Raid on Entebbe” to Somalian drama “Black Hawk Down” to  “Valkyrie,” Hollywood has a long history of movies about targeted military strikes on villains. Already a number of pundits -- CBS' Lara Logan, to name one -- are willing to make the connection between the Bin Laden death and the film world, comparing the strike to "Black Hawk Down" and others. We'll soon see if American audiences are willing to make the connection too.


What does the killing of Osama bin Laden do to Hollywood's movie options?

Osama bin Laden's death leads to huge boost in CNN's ratings

Drama, history behind Osama bin Laden's death

Osama bin Laden's death galvanizes Sunday night

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Osama bin Laden. Credit: Rahimullah Yousafzai / Associated Press


Could 'The Hurt Locker' be disqualified from the Oscars because of an intemperate e-mail?

February 25, 2010 |  2:18 pm

With a controversial e-mail from a producer of "The Hurt Locker" kicking up dust, Oscar season once again has a case of public mudslinging on its hands. But for all the messiness, it may result in little more than the loss of a few party tickets.

Late last week, "The Hurt Locker" producer Nicolas Chartier sent an e-mail to a group of peers and friends, at least some of whom are members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, asking them to vote for "The Hurt Locker" and "not the $500 million film" -- in other words, "Avatar." But after the e-mail came to light this week, Chartier, a first-timer to the rigors of the awards circuit, sent out a message apologizing for his initial e-mail, citing his "naivete, ignorance of the rules and plain stupidity."

Academy rules clearly bar campaigning that creates a negative impression of another film. And though  whispering about a rival is common, an e-mail making a flat appeal for one film by deriding another, for budgetary or any other reasons, would almost certainly be out of bounds.

Although the eventual impact of Chartier's indie-first argument on voters is unclear -- the Academy historically has liked movies that were box-office successes -- the effect on the Academy itself, and the film, could be more tangible.

The Academy, which learned of the e-mail this week, is looking into various forms of discipline, with the group's executive administrator Ric Robertson spearheading the decision process. The "nuclear option," as one consultant put it, would be to remove the film from best picture contention.

But there's almost no chance the group would do that, according to those familiar with the Academy's voting process. At the most, it would take away Chartier's Oscar tickets -- a slap on the wrist, to be sure, but also an interesting twist, given that Chartier had to wage a battle with the Academy to be included as a producer in the first place. (The movie has four credited producers, and the Academy typically allows only three to take the stage at the Kodak Theatre.)

It could also stop Chartier, who is not a member of the Academy, from joining the body. If he won best picture, Chartier would be eligible for a virtual automatic membership, but the board of governors could take the nearly unprecedented step of rejecting him. But this, too, might be a tough sell. After a brouhaha with "Crash" producer Bob Yari a few years ago over his non-credit for that film resulted in a lawsuit -- costing the Academy money and public standing -- the organization is unlikely to want to risk that kind of fight again.

There's precedent for the Academy scrutinizing the mudslinging -- and not doing much. In the 2003 race, DreamWorks, campaigning for "The House of Sand and Fog," took out an ad that made a similar plea -- it asked voters to choose the movie's Shohreh Aghdashloo for supporting actress over front-runner Renee Zellweger of "Cold Mountain." She stayed in contention (although Zellweger won anyway).

The Academy says it won't announce its decision until after ballots are due next Tuesday, if at all, presumably to avoid interfering with the race. It's a decision that fits with the group's cautionary reputation, but also a strange one. Stories like this already affect the race, and the delay of nearly a week can give the impression that the Academy is soft on negative campaigners, pretty much the last thing it wants to do.

There's another layer of back story to the "Hurt Locker" fracas. Among many of the other principals on the film, Chartier is perceived as an outsider. They've grimaced as he's made some of his publicity moves, including this one. A French American financier who runs a Los Angeles-based company called Voltage Pictures, Chartier is a foreign-sales specialist, and he's uniformly regarded as the driving force in getting "The Hurt Locker" financed and off the ground.

But according to several sources, there's little love lost between him and the film's writer, Mark Boal, and director Kathryn Bigelow. And even though they were said to make bids to get him approved by the Academy, the spin among those working on the film has been to present him as a rogue element who doesn't speak for distributor Summit Entertainment, Boal, Bigelow or a third producer, Greg Shapiro. In an interview with 24 Frames on Thursday about the initial e-mail, Boal said, "I knew nothing about it, I think it's incredibly stupid and wrong and I hope he stops."

Summit also repudiated Chartier's e-mail. "An enthusiastic and naive producer made a mistake," a studio spokesman said. "When we found out about it we asked him to stop immediately, we let the Academy know and he's making amends."

The gambit to put some distance between the film and Chartier will probably be successful, especially when you consider that the movie is up against "Inglourious Basterds," a contender from Harvey Weinstein -- a man known for speaking, er, boldly, about competitive movies.

How much the to-and-fro between competitors has an impact on the final vote is an open question. Four years ago, Lionsgate's Jon Feltheimer, whose company was pushing Oscar hopeful "Crash," caused a ruckus when he said publicly that he had made phone calls on behalf of the film. The Academy took a look; other films wondered if it could prompt a backlash. A few weeks later, "Crash" won best picture.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Jeremy Renner in "The Hurt Locker." Credit: Summit Entertainment


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