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Thursday, January 19, 2006

Morning read: Disney eyeing Pixar, Amazon's new show, Beastie Boys concert doc, MySpace

- The Journal reports this morning that "Walt Disney is in Serious Talks to Acquire Pixar," for slightly more than $6.7 billion. That'd make Steve Jobs the biggest individual shareholder in Disney, and likely give him a seat on the board. Merissa Marr and Nick Wingfield write:

    ...the companies are still haggling over a final price, and any sharp moves in Pixar's share price could easily push the negotiations off course. People familiar with the situation say the two sides could decide on a less-ambitious course, including some form of agreement for Disney to distribute movies that Pixar finances and makes.

    An acquisition would give Pixar and Mr. Jobs a way to cash in on the company's unbroken run of blockbuster, computer-animated films. Mr. Jobs would likely join the Disney board, people familiar with the situation say. And Pixar's John Lasseter, the Disney alumnus who directed "Toy Story" and the upcoming "Cars," would take on an expanded role overseeing Disney animated movies. Pixar is now near a point where it needs to decide who will distribute its post-Disney releases, including a film about a rat living in an upmarket Parisian restaurant.

    While Disney could face questions about Pixar's high valuation, the deal under discussion would secure for Disney the most successful producer of one of its most important products: animated movies. Disney's own feature animation department is in the midst of a still-uncertain transformation as the company moves from the hand-drawn movies on which it made its name to the computer-animation genre that has overtaken it in recent years. Disney's first entry in the computer-animation business, the recent "Chicken Little," was a modest success.

- The LA Times and New York Times both have pieces about a new half-hour Web-based show from The host is Bill Maher, and he'll be interviewing authors who've got new books out, actors with new movies on DVD, and bands with new albums for sale.

The show will be called "Amazon Fishbowl with Bill Maher." Guests for the first episode, to be shot at Sundance on Sunday, include Stephen King, Rob Thomas, Toni Collette, and Armisted Maupin. Saul Hansell of the NY Times writes:

    As guests are talking, Amazon will display buttons that will let viewers instantly buy the book, DVD or CD they are discussing, as well as links to pages with their other works or those by similar artists.

Strangely, Amazon has hired Bill Maher to host and "asked him to steer clear of politics," according to an VP that Hansell quotes. The show will be broadcast live every Thursday night at 11 PM Eastern for at least 12 weeks.

- Lorne Manly of the NY Times writes about the Beastie Boys concert film that's showing at Sundance this weekend. The full title is "Awesome...I Fuckin' Shot That!" (The Times can only refer to it, of course, as "Awesome...") Manly says band member Adam Yauch was perusing the Web when he came across a camera phone pic that had been snapped at a concert. He liked the rawness and energy of the image. So, Manly writes, a few days before a Madison Square Garden concert:

    They decided to lend hand-held video cameras to 50 fans, told them to shoot at will, and then presented the end result in movie theaters in all its primitive, kaleidoscopic glory.

(The cameras were Sony Hi-8s, and the band returned them to various stores for a refund after the show. That made me smile.)

    Then Mr. Yauch, Mr. Doran, assorted editors and others took over. The postproduction phase stretched more than a year as they waded through nearly 60 angles and about 100 hours of material. (The band supplemented the 50 camera-wielding fans with five friends who had digital video cameras and several high-quality cameras fixed on stage.)
The total budget, when music sampling rights were figured in, is about $1.2 million. The movie opens on March 12th.

- Manly's piece also mentions that the powerful social networking site MySpace will be unveiling an online filmmaker's community at Sundance. That's something I've long predicted. Manly writes:

    MySpace, in its two years of existence, has allowed more than 660,000 aspiring bands and solo artists to upload their music to the site, where it can then be discovered by the site's nearly 50 million members and perhaps even by music labels. "We're trying the same thing for filmmakers - a platform for our users to express themselves creatively," said Chris DeWolfe, the company's chief executive.