Bruce Barker and MovieBoss

On this evening, as the drugs begin to take hold, I realize that I’ve made a horrible mistake and taken a potentially trippy dose of pussy tranquilizer and this strange leafy substance used by the Pacific Islanders to make testicles shrivel. As I rock back and forth, the universe unfolds upon itself and I projectile-vomit a crucifix into my nude, autographed photo of Joel Schumacher. I have forever left the realm of normal reality, if such a thing can be thought to exist, and will not return.

I wake up a few hours later in my alternate, parallel universe, and slowly come to the shocking realization that, in this particular incarnation of reality, Arnold Schwarzenegger did NOT star in “Demolition Man,” goddamnit. This is a strange world indeed.

In this world, the online film-gaming empires of HSX (The Hollywood Stock Exchange) and Virtual Producer (recently purchased and burned by HSX) have crumbled, and a new titan has emerged: MovieBoss. Today’s victim is Bruce Barker, one of the great legends of HSX and a newly-crowned floating head of MovieBoss.

DS: Welcome to the show, bitc– I mean, Bruce. For those readers of ours unfamiliar with you and your past, please give us a brief — brief, I say — refresher on your background with film, the Internet, the Hollywood Stock Exchange, and finally, your involvement with the creation of MovieBoss.

BB: Film – I scrub and scrub and still have this unsightly film. Internet – I gave Al Gore the idea. HSX – Didn’t that used to be apopular game some years ago? MovieBoss – Been there, done that, designed a t-shirt. Brief enough? Actually, I have no background in film beyond being a movie lover and a person who has written about film and the film industry for over 5 years now. My first trip onto the web was 5 years ago and I soon met Alan and another movie lover by the name of Mali. The three of us worked together to make Mali’s Movie Mania, which grew into [Max’d on Movies] when Mali retired. Mali’s was a fan site for the Hollywood Stock Exchange. While trying to come up with ideas for a new and simple movie game that Max’d visitors could play, I came up with the very raw concept for MovieBoss. Alan and I batted the idea around a bit and when Gerd and Linda joined Max’d a couple of months later, the 4 of us worked together as a team to create the MovieBoss that exists today. My current involvement at MovieBoss and Max’d is as Editor in Chief, Board member, and as part of the development team for current and new projects.

DS: So why… MovieBoss? Why a game based on theatrical revenues? Couldn’t a ‘six-degrees-of-Quentin-Tarantino’ or a ‘guess which controlled substance Charlie Sheen took’ game have worked just as well?

BB: Hang on a second, gotta write this down…guess the controlled substance… got it. What a great idea! Hrm… wonder if we can get Robert Downey Jr. as expert consultant. Movie Boss is based on theatrical per screen revenues because HSX players posted on the Ticker Talk (HSX Bulletin Board) that they wished there were a game out there that used PSA’s [per screen averages]. These figures are accessible, generally accurate, and provide the lifeblood of the theater business. It seemed that there were games devoted to Hollywood itself, movie trivia games, even games catering to aspiring screenwriters, but nothing for the aspect of films that provides every dime that Hollywood gets – the theaters themselves.

DS: Perhaps that’s what surprises me… as I’m sure our crusty ‘ED’itor can tell you, there’s a lot less glory in running a projection booth than running a movie studio. Obviously though, you’ve got a winning idea here — people seem to like crunching the numbers. MovieBoss is on the teetering brink of complete superstardom, and your competition seems to have utterly imploded. Thus, my next question: what do you think contributed to the demise of games such as Virtual Producer and the Hollywood Stock Exchange (not quite a corpse yet, but it’s on the breathing machine…) and how do you think you’ll avoid those pitfalls with your own game?

BB: I’ve gotta be honest here. The game is a lot less about the running of a movie theater than it is about being able to pick those films that will be big hits. Almost everyone that goes to the movies watches the trailers and decides then and there whether the movie is gonna be big or not. MovieBoss gives players the opportunity to put their own savvy about the movies up against thousands of others. Once people stay with the game a short while, and get to meeting some of the other players they compete with, the strong sense of community is what makes them remain instead of drifting elsewhere. I can’t say for certain why so many of the other movie games are fading away. Try as I might, HSX won’t give me access to all their private memos. Why is MovieBoss different? For one thing our financial officer, Linda, is a genius at stretching a budget. She runs a tight ship and does it with style. We have several investors, but we are talking about a small fraction of the kind of money most companies seek to stay in business. Alan is a wizard at getting the best possible price on our hardware, and he is willing to drive a good distance for a better deal. Above all that though, I do believe what sets us apart from a lot of the other gaming sites is that we are accessible to our players. When people e-mail us, they get a quick response. Suggestions are seriously considered, and at least one of the owners of this game is in the official IRC chatroom each and every night. MovieBoss is a fun game that doesn’t take a lot of time to play. But again, the community and the relationship the owners have with the players is what I think makes it all special. Will it be enough to make the game a smash hit? Who knows? All I can say is I will be content if someday MovieBoss is popular enough that the four of us can finally earn the occasional paycheck. After almost 4 years, we’d like to have a few bucks in our pockets to show for it. Regardless, as long as people come to the game, we’ll keep the door open for them.

DS: Besides myself and other resident online vets, do you know of any celebrities who play MovieBoss? And the second part of that question… do you intend to have sex with any of them?

BB: Part 1 – Yes. Part 2 – What, again? Sorry. We have to protect the identity of celebrities playing the game simply because they want their online anonymity. I can tell you that I know of at least 1 screenwriter, 2 directors, and 4 of what would be considered major or “A” list stars who have played the game at one time, or are still playing. There are others, but they have not spoken with, or written to, any of us to make themselves known. I do know that a number of Hollywood “players” were Max’d readers, including Wes Craven, Michael Moore, and either Mel Gibson himself, or someone very close to him. When Max’d comes back, we hope they return to our readership as well.

DS: Now, bear with this question, because I have some experience here. If I was a rival company, and I offered to buy your game for a bunch of worthless f*cking stock, a case of Heineken, and a ‘consultant’ position so I can fire you whenever I’ve had a bad week, would you do it? Better question, actually, *can* MovieBoss be bought for the right price?

BB: This one’s easy. After witnessing this very thing happen to someone we here at MovieBoss helped get started, we all swore to be a whole lot more careful with our company. Can MovieBoss be bought? Sure. HOWEVER, there are a few criterion that have to be met first. All four of us agree that before we sell this company we require that it be to a company with the same commitment to customer service that we have always had. The players are our strongest [assets] and to put it bluntly, we won’t let them get screwed. Also, it would have to be for a cash price-tag that is high enough that each of our investors would come out in the black. Finally, there would have to be some coin in the pockets of the administrators. We gave birth to this thing and there’s no way in hell we’re letting go of it without at least a solid payday.

DS: Using the game as a microcosm of reality, what’s your take on why so many real-life theater chains are going bankrupt at this moment? Are they just not picking the right mix of films?

BB: There are thousands of reasons, but the primary one is overspending. It isn’t the mom and pop Bijou that’s going bankrupt, it’s [the] very large chains. State of the art is a wonderful thing, but it doesn’t come cheap. The booming box office of recent years led the competitive national chains to spend money like water in the effort to be the first into a particular marketplace to open up a large multiplex with multimillion dollar seating, state of the art sound and projection technology, and in many cases, in house restaurants complete with full service waiters. Banks looked at the massive revenues the large chains were generating and all but begged them to take out enormous loans. Unfortunately, if it costs you $30 million to open up a movie theater, it’s going to be a decade or more before you approach a break-even point. Even more unfortunately, sooner or later the banks are going to want their money.

DS: If you could horribly, slowly murder someone, anyone, who would it be, why would you do it, and how would you make them suffer?

BB: I knew they wouldn’t all be easy. Well, as a former musician, I think I’d like to find the fiend that invented the disco drum machine rhythm – you know, the combination high hat/bass drum “tsss-DUM tss DUMM tssDUM” backbeat? – and make him pay for what he has wrought upon an unsuspecting world of music lovers. First I would force him to watch the entire [Pauly] Shore film library – director’s cuts – with the alternate Yoko Ono soundtrack and commentary by Shore himself. Then I would lock him in a room with Kevin Costner and not let him out until he had succeeded in editing “Waterworld” and “The Postman” down to a proper 90 minutes each with Costner’s full approval. Finally, I would collect the surviving members of the Cramps, Sex Pistols, Ramones, and Clash and give them each wet bath towels from the Holiday Inn. For 50 minutes of every hour, they would snap those towels against his exposed groin to the beat of “I Will Survive” until he dies. The remaining 10 minutes per hour would be his break period, where he could cool and sooth the injured area in a blissful bath of alcohol and razor blades. While not as merciful as the traditional Native American method of killing an enemy, (slicing off the eyelids and strapping the victim down facing the rising sun) it would bring me a great deal of peace.

DS: That’s far out, man. Moving along here, MovieBoss seems to be quite an accomplishment. Like several other major games (past and future), you ended up closing your doors due to money reasons, but with the intention of re-opening them, freshly painted (so to speak) and with more funding. Since then, you’ve not only recovered, but thrived. Now, you have mentioned a strong sense of community amongst your players already, but I don’t think that’s enough, because the other fallen beasts had the same thing before their demise. What do you think is your secret to success and such loyalty amongst your players? Is it the knowledge and attitude that you and the gang were once players yourselves and not corporate whores (yet)?

BB: I don’t think so. As I stated before, each of the 4 administrators of this game is accessible. Anyone who has played this game for more than a couple of weeks should be able to name at least half the administrative team at Movie Boss. I think what fosters the loyalty amongst our players is the result of two things. First, it is the fact that so many of the things we deal with in life are faceless bureaucracies. Send a letter to a politician, you get a form response. Complain to a manager in a store, you get a bit of buttering up at best. Apply for a job, and some faceless mog holds your fate in his or her hands. At any given moment, some bean counter on the job could decide that the company needs to lay off a number of employees and you are helpless to fight it. We are the exact opposite. If you have a problem, you get a response from one of the owners. If you have a suggestion, it is reviewed by all 4 of the owners. If we have to take the game offline, or change some aspect of the game itself, and we try to give you enough time to adapt and make alternate suggestions. [Second] are the players themselves. People like FilmJerk [the assh*le in charge of this website, too] who have been with the game for a long time will offer advice and tips to anyone who asks. While there is little tolerance for new players that ask questions before reading the rules, or outright ask players to play the game for them (“What movies should I book this weekend?”) most of the veteran players are quick to help a new player get started. We started with a game that is fun to play that revolves around a topic people are passionate about – movies. Then we set the game up where, unlike HSX and some others, one needn’t be logged into the game for hours at a time to play well. That was a good start. But more than anything else, we decided not to be faceless. Alan, Linda, and Gerd are really using their true names when they post, as am I. We don’t pretend [there?s] an army of tech support people and spin doctors for us to hide behind. If something screws up we don’t get letters saying, “Dear tech support…” we get letters saying, “Hey Alan, when you get a chance…” and “Bruce, is there a way you guys can…” Silly as it sounds, it makes all the difference in the world. Add to that the presence of players like selat, JFields, and FilmJerk, who aren’t shy about helping other players, or offering assistance to the Bosses themselves, and it’s a tough to beat combination.

DS: One thing I always wondered about HSX is if they made any money off the marketing data — what a large bunch of film-geared monkeys were predicting a film’s returns to be, based on marketing, hype, and flavor. In some ways, I suppose I could ask you the same question: you have a large, educated audience of film-powered monkeys who make these predictions every week as part of a whole… and like HSX, in order for the game to move along, the majority needs to be fairly successful. That means mere game play becomes regarded forecast. Are you already selling the data off, or do you have plans to in the future? (Note: if you have not already thought of this concept, please remember me when you ca$h in, kay?)

BB: When we were designing MovieBoss we felt that the data our players generated would be of far more value to the studios than the information HSX was making a mint to provide. We built in the bankruptcy factor with precisely that in mind. HSX provided percentile data based on their total number of portfolios, some of which hadn’t been touched in more than a year. We felt that since our data would be significantly more fresh and accurate (every player is 60 days from bankruptcy at Movie Boss and no data we generate includes info from dead accounts) the studios would be tripping all over themselves for the chance to buy information on coming releases from us. We were right… sort of. We were victims of a combination of things. First, HSX’s padding of their data became a matter of public knowledge. This made the studios wary of trusting any web-business-come-lately. Then came the bankruptcy filings of many of the major theater chains, which made the studios wary about spending any money until they knew what kind of pipeline would remain to market their products. Add to that the massive sales crash amongst ALL web businesses [that] made companies demand ever rising click through ratios along with larger data base pools and we were caught in the middle. Suffice it to say the studios are very much aware of Movie Boss, each of them have expressed interest in what we have to offer to them, but they are each still waiting to see if we will rise to the top or crash and burn. Our players have done an amazing job of predicting bombs like “Joe Dirt” and “Freddy Got Fingered.” Our current ‘BossBoard’ debates regarding the marketing plan in place for “AI” is also something that [distributors DreamWorks SKG and Warner Brothers] would be well served to be paying very close attention to. Each time Movie Boss players prove their skills at knowing the market better than those inside the Hollywood loop, our value rises to the decision makers at the studios. So yes, we’ve thought of it and no, you don’t get a cut. Keep trying though. We’ll be happy to share the wealth with ANYONE who helps us earn some daily bread. Consider that a challenge to you, and anyone who reads this interview!

{Editor’s Note: Shortly after this interview was completed, HSX Vice President Matt Kinney, known to players as “Mac Daddy”, and player liaison Ben Curtis were supposedly released by the company, adding to the rumours that HSX will Chapter 7 in the very near future. Additionally, a few days after that, it was announced that HSX has been sold to a British gambling company.}

DS: Okay Bruce, let history be your judge. Take a minute or two to glance that data, and give me a rough rundown/predict of Summer 2001 as you see it. How’s “Pearl Harbor” going to fare vs. “Jurassic Park III?” Where shall “A.I.” and “Evolution” fall? What’s the giant bomb going to be this summer, according to the players?

BB: “Pearl [Harbor]” will be number #1, [and] “Evolution” is getting a LOT of early bookings, but the jury is still out on both “Jurassic Park 3” and “AI.” It looks like everyone is planning to book both movies, but the early booking players are showing almost no confidence in JP3. Pearl is the only movie right now that is being booked heavier than “The Mummy Returns” was.

DS: It seems that you have a terrific perspective, as a film ‘outsider’, regarding the formula for box-office success. Let me ask you, if you had to make a film specifically geared to break the bank, regardless of cost or practicality, what would it be?

BB: Unless I’m hearing the question wrong, you are asking me what movie I’d like to make. There is a book I’m rereading right now that I would love to see made into a movie. It’s called “Hart’s War” and it’s written by John Katzenbach – the man who wrote Just Cause a few years ago. It takes place in a German POW camp toward the end of WW2. {Editor’s Note: Hart’s War is currently in production.} The camp is divided into two sections – American prisoners, and British. The story unfolds as a member of the famed Tuskegee Airmen is admitted to the camp. He is the only black man present and soon a highly bigoted prisoner with whom he’s had several arguments turns up murdered. Knowing the war is nearing an end, the Germans allow the Americans to hold a murder trial so they can learn as much as possible about the US legal processes, since they fear that they themselves may soon face trial for war crimes. It’s a great read, but more importantly, it has some very meaty characters – a rarity nowadays. It would be the perfect showcase piece for a strong black actor like Cuba Gooding Jr. as well as leaving room for strong supporting cast members like Edward Norton, or even a youngster looking to establish his chops more such as Ed Furlong. Rather than focus on heavy special effects, the film would be carried by the many issues (racism, international concepts of American justice, the rigors of war) and the emotions that each of the characters must manifest. While it would never be a runaway smash like Titanic, it would live a strong and solid life on video and would, in the hands of a director such as Jonathan Demme, be a sure Oscar contender. For pure blockbuster summer fare, I’d love to make a film from Melissa Matheson’s brilliant novel sequel, “E.T.’s Green Planet” that was published shortly after the original movie came out. We now have the technology to make a film set on the home planet of Spielberg’s most famous alien. I also believe a film trilogy based on Isaac Asimov’s brilliant Foundation books is long overdue. Finally, with the resurgence of animation in recent years and the success of “Shrek,” I think it is time to examine making an animated series of films based on the magnificent series of Myth books by Robert Asprin. If you haven’t read about the adventures of Skeeve and Aahz, you are missing one of the best fantasy/satire sets ever written.

DS: So now that you’ve got your hands full with MovieBoss, what’s going to happen, or what is happening, with Max’d? Tell me that you’re going to at least change the name, unless you traded Linda for Keiser and a high draft pick…

BB: Trade Linda for Max at HSX? The concept is so ridiculous I don’t know what to say. That would be like turning down Anthony Hopkins because you feel the [Lecter] role is better served in the hands of Rob Schneider. To start off with, let’s put an old rumor to rest. Max’d on Movies was never named for Max. The name was chosen as a play on words for HSX players because to “max out” shares in a stock generally meant that you had all that was allowed and would have gotten more if it were possible. The idea was that we wanted to be crammed to the max with movie information. Oddly enough, when we were choosing the name someone, and I think it was Linda, ironically enough, didn’t like the name because “Max will probably think we named the site after HIM.” Little did we know that everyone ELSE would think it as well. When we started working on Max’d again recently, we debated changing the name, but studios, actors, directors, the media, and over 200 thousand readers at one point were familiar with the Max’d name and we don’t want to start from scratch with something new. Max’d is indeed coming back, In fact, it may be back before this interview is published. We have a number of new writers, especially in the new Movie Boss advice area, and a lot of the more popular features are coming back. Zippers – the movie mistakes column that was our most popular feature, will be returning with a lengthy column about “The Mummy Returns.” In addition, we are very fortunate to have your very own FilmJerk helping us out!

[DS? NOTE: Ed is a whore.]

DS: Going back a little ways, I have heard through grapevines that you and some of the Boss/Max’d gang might have been in on the initial creation of Virtual Producer. Any truth to that rumor? Tell all, bitch!

BB: We were approached with a general idea for a game where you created your own movie. It was a good idea, and Alan and I spent a couple of days making it better. When it came down to signing on the dotted line and getting everything contractual, things sort of fell apart. One of the Max’d Administrators, kat, left us shortly thereafter and became part of the driving force of what eventually became VP. In fact, it was right after kat left us that Gerd and Linda came on board and we started the work on Movie Boss. We are ALWAYS interested in helping people develop game ideas, so if you or any of the readers have an idea they just don’t know how to bring to fruition, they should contact us.

DS: One final question, Bruce. Do you think being part of a budding gaming empire will get you some mad pussy?

BB: Hope not. I’m a dog lover! In closing, let me just remind everyone to have their pet spayed or neutered, even if it does make them mad.

DS: Fuck you! Fucking pet-libido killer! Pro-choice! Pro-choice! Who the fuck are you to deny a dog?s right to fuck? Shoot a vet for Jesus!

That’s all folks. Go home. When you get home, log onto MovieBoss.com and put your virtual money where your mouth is, see how shitty your ability to predict the hits really is! Also stop by Maxd-Movies.com in a few weeks. And remember, somewhere, somehow, a lone pubic hair is sprouting on a delicate young nymph.

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