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Friday, November 03, 2006

Thoughts on the Cruise/United Artists Deal ... Stray Cinema `Open Source Movie-making' Contest ... George Miller on `Happy Feet'

- I'm not sure how the Tom Cruise/Paula Wagner deal could possibly work out well for MGM, the studio that just signed Cruise and Wagner to run its moribund United Artists division.

Cruise and Wagner get 30 percent of United Artists, without putting in a dime. Wagner gets the ability to greenlight four (or more) movies a year, with an average budget of $50 million. But Tom Cruise has not committed to actually being in any of those movies -- and if he does deign to play a role, the budget will go up significantly. Cruise is also free to make movies for other studios. (Sounds to me like one of the same things that hamstrung DreamWorks SKG -- Spielberg kept making movies for others.) Kate Kelly and Merissa Marr of the Wall Street Journal write:

    Funding for initial overhead and production costs at UA will come from MGM. But over time, the company may raise additional financing, perhaps from hedge funds or some of its current owners. Mr. Sloan said he hoped that the studio would be able to structure arrangements in which those that financed the films could be paid back shortly after the films are released.

    Mr. Sloan expressed faith in his new partners' willingness to be flexible about their terms: "I think that Tom and Paula are completely committed to working with us on a financially prudent model."

We'll see 'bout that.

- Cinema Minima has a post about a cool new contest for directors and editors from a site called Stray Cinema: you get the complete raw footage of a movie to play with. (You can also add up to 20 percent new footage.) The five best cuts will be screened in London.

- Anne Thompson of The Hollywood Reporter has a fun piece about the $100 million CG-animated musical 'Happy Feet,' which debuts on November 17th. She writes:

    Miller originally conceived the project as a blend of live-action and animation a la the "Babe" movies. But after his frequent cinematographer Andrew Lesnie tipped him off to what Peter Jackson was doing over in New Zealand at Weta Digital with motion-capture technology and the first "The Lord of the Rings" film, Miller visited Weta, saw Gollum and realized his problems were solved.

    "You can't train penguins to dance or sing, unlike pigs, which are domesticated animals," he says. "The moment I saw motion capture I said, 'I can get my dancing penguins.' "

    It was up to Miller's 27-year-old company, Kennedy Miller Prods., to create an animation studio from scratch. In 2001, computer animation was nowhere near what it is today. It took years of sweat, tears and R&D to form such complex operations as Pixar or Chris Wedge's Blue Sky ("Ice Age," "Robots"). It took Kennedy Miller more than two years to build the infrastructure, hardware, software, pipeline and data-processing capacity. And with the glut of animated movies going into production, competition was fierce for top-tier animation talent. Miller and Mitchell, working closely with CEO Zareh Nalbandian, painstakingly built the FX house Animal Logic into an CG animation studio.


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