News from April 20, 2001

In response to yesterday’s commentary on Joe Lieberman’s plan to regulate the film industry and how they can advertise:

Sol, one of my fellow players at MovieBoss.com, caught my views and felt compelled to respond. Which I think is great. I love getting dialogues going about important topics. Here’s what Sol had to say…

Hey Edward,

I’m a fellow Movieboss player. Over there you’ve seemed to be very intelligent. But I think you’ve gone a little too far with your recent article (April 19). I recently went to Exit Wounds. This is an R rated movie with graphic violence, a lot of strong language, and shots of nudity at a strip club. As the movie went on I found myself more and more disgusted by the fact that a father had brought his ~10 year old son to this movie. There is a problem with the system when kids are allowed into a movie as graphic as this one. Now Lieberman’s idea may not be the best, but at least he recognizes there is a problem. Personally, if I’m taxed a few extra bucks to make sure movies like this are not marketed to kids and that kids are not let into them, I’m willing to do that.The fact is there are some problems with the system that need to be dealt with and at least Lieberman is trying.

Respectfully,

Sol

Now, I respect Sol for sharing his opinion. I understand his concerns, although I have no desire to see Exit Wounds, so I can’t speak firsthand about that particular film. If someone wants to take their ten year old to a Steven Seagal movie, that’s their right. Personally, I’d rather see that ten year accompanied by an adult. I can’t tell you how many times in my years as a theatre manager when a parent would come with their kid to the theatre, buy one child’s ticket to something like The Rock or Die Hard, bothering only to find out when the movie got out before letting Junior run inside. There was nothing I could do about it, because the child has parental consent.

The following is my response to Sol, as I responded to him earlier today:

Thank you for responding. While I too am often bothered by parents who bring irresponsible young children to films aimed at a more mature audience, I must separate my personal feelings from what I know is moral and immoral in terms of artistic expression.

Forgive me if I sound like I am lecturing, an accusation I often receive, but I suspect you might be unaware of what I am talking about, and some facts about how the MPAA and FCC work.

To touch on your response directly… The MPAA was created in the late 60s when the collapse of the Hays Office would have resulted in the formation of an area based ratings board in almost every community in the nation. In fact, it did happen in Dallas for a good quarter century, where the local film board imposed their own whims on filmmakers.

Under the Dallas law, a film had to be reviewed by a Motion Picture Classification Board and receive a rating. If the film was deemed to be “not suitable for young persons,” all advertisements were required to clearly disclose the classification, patrons under 16 had to be turned away at the box office, and the exhibitor had to obtain a special license to show “not suitable films.” The ordinance also set out a long description of the substantive standards governing ratings decisions. It provided that “not suitable for young persons” means “describing or portraying brutality, criminal violence or depravity in such a manner as to be, in the judgment of the Board, likely to incite or encourage crime or delinquency on the part of young persons.” The ratings system also covered films “describing or portraying nudity beyond the customary limits of candor in the community. Interstate Circuit, Inc. v. Dallas, 390 U.S. 676, 678 (1968).

The Supreme Court struck down the Dallas ordinance as a violation of the First Amendment. In doing so, the Court cited a host of other decisions in which similar rating systems had been struck down as unconstitutional.

The Court was not impressed with the city’s argument that its licensing system was consistent with the First Amendment because it employed “classification rather than direct suppression.” Nor were the law’s unconstitutional features rendered acceptable because the ordinance was “adopted for the salutary purpose of protecting children.” The Court said that such a classification system would cause theater owners to shy away from any films that would receive an “unsuitable” rating, so that they would “contract to show only the totally inane.” Echoing former FCC chairman Newton Minow’s view of television, the Court said, “The vast wasteland that some have described in reference to another medium might be a verdant paradise” compared to a world in which films are judged according to a government ratings system. Interstate Circuit, Inc. v. Dallas, 390 U.S. at 683-85.

But that has nothing to do with what Lieberman wants. He knows he can’t stop the ratings board. In court case after court case: Kingsley International Pictures Corp. v. Regents, 360 U.S. 684 (1959); Holmby Productions, Inc. v. Vaughn, 350 U.S. 870 (1955); Commercial Pictures Corp. v. Regents, 346 U.S. 587 (1954); Superior Films, Inc. v. Department of Education, 346 U.S. 587 (1954); Gelling v. Texas, 343 U.S. 960 (1952); Joseph Burstyn, Inc. v. Wilson, 343 U.S. 495 (1952); Police Commissioner v. Siegel Enterprises, Inc., 223 Md. 110, 162 A.2d 727, cert. denied, 364 U.S. 364 U.S. 909 (1960); People v. Kahan, 15 N.Y.2d 311, 206 N.E.2d 333 (1965); People v. Bookcase, Inc., 14 N.Y.2d 409, 201 N.E.2d 14 (1964); Hallmark Productions, Inc. v. Carroll, 384 Pa. 348, 121 A.2d 584 (1956); Paramount Film Distributing Corp. v. City of Chicago, 172 F. Supp. 69 (N.D. Ill. 1959); Winters v. New York, 333 U.S. 507 (1948), to name just a handful. The courts on every level have protected the rights of of the public and the creators of art when it comes to non-obscene work.

Instead, Lieberman wants to tell studios how they can and cannot market their films. And the only way he is going to be able to do so is to have the FCC hire more employees to do nothing else but watch television all day and all night, making certain “questionable” advertisements from studios do not appear on television at a time when young children might be watching.

In 1975, I was a few months shy of my eighth birthday when a new comedy show called “Saturday Night Live” premiered. My mom knew I wanted to see it, so she let me stay up and watch it. I was hooked from that first skit with Belushi and Mr. Mike. Yeah, it was full of sexual innuendo and drug use. But my mom raised me to think for myself.

If we were talking about stopping pornographic images from being broadcast on network TV… not just a fully naked person on screen but hard-core sexual activity… well, then we wouldn’t be having this dialogue, because I never would have mentioned it.

However, what the Senator from Connecticut wants to do is put the government back into the censorship game. Even though the MPAA and the FCC already have well defined standards which already does what Lieberman wants and make it law.

Which once again leads me back to “Schindler’s List,” one of the most disturbing films I have ever seen. In the many years since its release, I have yet to watch it a second time. And I am certain I am not the only one. However, I would not hesitate for a moment to allow my as yet non-existent children to see it at an early age, so they could understand the horror of intolerance. “Schindler” would easily fall into the adult themed category. If Lieberman’s bill passes and miraculously was deemed to be constitutional, would NBC be unable to run promos announcing its showing during Friends without breaking the lawr

The question is “Who decides what is improperr” In my opinion, the answer is “me”. The answer is “you”. It is up to you and I to decided what is right for our families. If I see something on TV I feel is inappropriate for my children, it is my duty to inform the broadcasters of my displeasure. It is NOT the job of the government to decide what is moralistic for my family and make that decision for me before I have a chance to decide for myself.

I Thought “Strike” Was A Baseball Term

Lame duck LA Mayor Richard Riordan has pleaded with producers, writers and actors to work out their contract negotiations, claiming his office’s just completed study with The Milken Institute and Sebago Associates, shows the area could in due course cost Los Angeles 81,900 jobs and $4.4 billion in lost revenue. Riordan, whose term as mayor ends June 30, the same day as the last day of the current SAG contract, chose to strike fear not in the hearts of working writers and actors who want fair compensation but instead the common man when he announced “A strike will represent a U-turn back to the days of the 1990s recession, with high unemployment and business closures. A prolonged strike will claim many victims whose sources of income simply will not survive.” During his press conference, Riordan invited several local businessmen who provide services to the film industry, who all claimed they would not only have to lay off a majority of employees during the strike but may have to shut down their companies altogether should either strike be a prolonged affair.

Doing their best to assuage the potential paranoia, the Writers Guild and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers issued a joined statement maintaining the two groups “appreciate the support Mayor Riordan has given to assure a successful conclusion to these negotiations. The writers guild and AMPTP are committed to negotiating in good faith a new contract that will serve writers, the entertainment industry and the community.” The actor’s guild issued a separate statement, a SAG spokesperson called Riordan’s involvement in the issue “crucial” and requested he elevate his involvement by urging AMPTP to commit to meeting the reasonable need to middle-income actors to earn a living wage.

In related news, thousands of International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts (or IATSE for short) members from LA to West Palm Beach to Reading, PA, jammed local passport offices. Area bookstores also reported a sharp increase in the sales of “Learn French in 30 Days” tapes and CDs.

Big Big BIG news from The Wonderful World of King Rat

Storyline Entertainment has cast Mehki Phifer and Sean Maher to star in their TV remake of the 1971 TV movie Brian’s Song. For those of you who don’t remember, Brian’s Song is the wonderfully sappy story of Gayle Sayers and Brian Piccolo, teammates on the Chicago Bears during the 1960s, who became best of friends despite the racial tension of the era, and whose bond grew stronger after Piccolo was diagnosed with cancer in his mid 20s.

One of the first made for TV movies, the original version starred a pre-Godfather James Caan and Billy Dee Williams, and ran a scant 74 minutes. Shooting begins May 7 in Toronto.

If this new version is a success, we can hopefully look forward to more remakes of TV movies. I’d like to see what some new turk can do with Spielberg’s Duel.

How Are You Doingr

Longtime collaborators Jean Reno and Luc Besson are teaming for their 168th film together, for Wasabi, an action comedy financed and written by Besson and based on an idea by Reno.

No word yet if the project is a wacky French remake of American Budweiser commercials.

I need some 50 OHM, 95% bare copper braid, 16 awg bc, 4.3 W/M’ coaxial cable, a 0.07″ General Purpose Desoldering Tip, a 4 pack of AA batteries and… OOOOOOO! Navy SEALS!

While announcing yesterday their 1Q 2001 profits surged 23 percent, Blockbuster revealed a strategic partnership with consumer electronics retailer RadioShack to install RadioShack stores in 130 Blockbuster locations this summer, with a nationwide roll-out of the store-within-a-store concept is set for 2002.

Wall Street reacted to this exciting news by driving the stock up 20 cents, before capitalizing on this huge gain and going on a selling spree, helping the stock close down a dime for the day.

Glory Be!

Richard Dutcher, the actor/director genius behind God’s Army and this month’s Brigham City, has announced his plans to make a biography of Mormon religion founder Joseph Smith. Dutcher called Smith an “amazingly charismatic and strong individual” during a press conference Thursday. “A figure like this is greater than Lawrence of Arabia. This is Gandhi. If I don’t make this film, somebody else is going to.”

Stop snickering.

Dutcher continued, “I’m convinced that if they do it, I’m not going to like it.”

I said stop snickering.

The Prisoner of El Playa De La Luna

Oscar winning filmmaker Pedro Almodovar has been forced to postpone shooting of his latest endeavor, the semiautobiographical Mala Educacion (Bad Education), because of unspecified casting problems.

However, our reporter in Madrid, Juan Carlos Pepe Patatia Gonzalez Tejada Serrano Del Cobo, has indicated Senor Almodovar is upset all his best actors, including Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz and Antonio Bandares, have abandoned him for greener pastures in Hollywood.

That’s Entertainment!

After canning 15 year film veteran Mike DeLuca and replacing him with a guy from their music department, New Line Cinema has crossed the hall to their music division once again to help their sagging non-Lord of the Rings film docket. Music affairs executive Mark Kaufman scored twice, hitting his bosses up with the feature comedy pitch “Key to the Girls Locker Room,”; and, for New Line Television, the romantic comedy telefilm spec script “Dog Walker”.

Of course, this kind of behavior is nothing new to New Line. Studio chairman Robert Shaye directed the feature “Book of Love,” president of production Toby Emmerich wrote and produced “Frequency,” while Jeffrey Reddick, assistant to co-chairman of worldwide marketing Robert Friedman, co-wrote the studio’s hit “Final Destination” and is working on the film’s sequel, and Marketing president Joe Nimziki, who also fancies himself a writer-director, has a clause in his contract allowing him to take time off from work to direct.

Inside sources have informed us the next in-house worker who will grab the big brass ring is Billy Meadows, a part-time intern in the home video department, described by one New Line insider as “the kid who gets Bob his sandwiches at Subway”, who has adapted his own life story as a New England Pee-Wee baseball star fallen on hard times into the dramedy script “Fenway Park.”

A Shocking Story

David Spade’s ex-assistant Skippy Molloy was in court today, pleading guilty to charges he attacked the diminutive star of Joe Dirt last November in Spade’s Beverly Hills mansion. Molloy got five years probation, must stay at least 100 yards away from Spade at all times and perform 480 hours of community service. No word yet if the community service would include keeping impressionable children from watching Just Shoot Me.

The Final Word

Michael Jackson is making arrangements to travel to Africa later this year to study the dilemma of children sold into slavery.

I’ll let you come up with your own punch line.

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