Ricky Gervais' Extremely Uncomfortable Golden Globes Monologue

The Golden Globes, Tullycast

Ricky Gervais’ Extremely Uncomfortable Golden Globes Monologue

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Sidney Lumet's Classic "Network"

Health Care Reform


Essay by Greg Ng

Senses of Cinema

The 1970s in Hollywood were a fertile time. The emergence of the director, as a legitimate artist in his or her own right, shifted focus from the studios, which by the ’60s had grown formulaic and unadventurous in their output, to a new generation of writers and directors, whose concerns and experience were markedly different from the conservative voice of the movie industry at that point.

Due in part to falling profits and the rise of television, a vacuum arose in the industry that opened the door for fresh ideas. Hollywood was redirected and, as a result, American cinema entered a new age – an age when box-office success did not necessarily preclude sophisticated content in a movie, an age when political discourse was not relegated to non-existence or tokenism, or a niche-market. The period between 1969 and the beginning of the 1980s saw American cinema, inspired as it was by international filmmaking (such as the French New Wave), offering critical, ambiguous and highly artful movies.

At its most ambitious, the New Hollywood was a movement intended to cut film free of its evil twin, commerce, by enabling it to fly high through the thin air of art. The filmmakers of the ’70s hoped to overthrow the studio system, or at least render it irrelevant, by democratising filmmaking, putting it in the hands of anyone with talent and determination. (1)

However, as the decade passed, the promise of real change receded; the status quo prevailed. As Peter Biskind puts it, in his book Easy Riders and Raging Bulls: How the Sex ‘N’ Drugs ‘N’ Rock ‘N’ Roll Generation Saved Hollywood,

although the decade of the 70s contains shining monuments to its great directors, the cultural revolution of that decade, like the political revolution of the 60s, ultimately failed. (2)

Robin Wood, in Hollywood: from Vietnam to Reagan, argues that the Vietnam War, among other things, focussed Western society’s dissenting voices, simultaneously discrediting ‘the system’ and emboldening the dissenters. However, like Biskind, Wood acknowledges “this generalized crisis in ideological confidence never issued in revolution. No coherent social/economic program emerged.” (3)

Commercial imperatives once more came to play their part in shaping the output of the industry, as previously fêted directors suffered box office losses and investment money turned to more secure propositions. Thus, a central tenet of political economy – i.e., the inherent censorship of the mass market – prevailed. Ironically, one of the films that stands as a testament to ’70s Hollywood’s freedom and ambition, Sidney Lumet’s Network (1976), depicts precisely this phenomenon.

Network is an example of a hugely successful and critically acclaimed feature film that offers a critique of television, ideology, radical chic and the consequences of American-led post-war capitalism, whilst being funny – no mean feat, and something only barely achieved in the current day by the likes of Michael Moore, et al.

Lumet’s direction and Paddy Chayefsky’s script lambaste the ills of the modern world (couched within the fast-paced soliloquies delivered by the stellar cast of Peter Finch, Faye Dunaway, Robert Duvall and William Holden) and are oft times prescient, predicting the rise of ‘reality television’, and the subsequent decline of both production and social values.

One of the central themes of Network – the decay of society and of love, concurrent with a plunge in standards and morality of the audience, which represents the world (in keeping with the mindset of both the film and its characters) – proves salutary in explaining what happened to Hollywood after the ’70s. Just as the collapse of the old studio system in the ’60s was precipitated by a change in demography and values, so too has a drift toward social conservatism and the continuing project of marketising everything affected our age.

When Howard Beale (Peter Finch), the ageing news anchor for Union Broadcasting System, is fired due to poor ratings, he announces to his friend and network executive Max Schumacher (William Holden) that he intends to “blow my brains out, right on the air, right in the middle of the 7 o’clock news” (4).

Schumacher replies, “You’ll get a hell of a rating. I’ll guarantee you that. 50 share, easy.” He facetiously begins to run with the idea: “We could make a series out of it. ‘Suicide of the Week.’ Oh, hell, why limit ourselves: ‘Execution of the week.’”

National Lampoon Chief Busted For Stock Fraud

Wall Street Fraud




The chief executive of National Lampoon, Daniel S. Laikin, was charged on Monday with conspiracy and securities fraud in what prosecutors said was an attempt to raise the value of the company’s stock artificially.

The National Lampoon, a media company in Los Angeles with projects in feature films, television programming and interactive entertainment, owns interest in the movies “Animal House” and the “Vacation” series.

Mr. Laikin, who was arrested on Monday in Los Angeles, and five other defendants were indicted by a grand jury in Philadelphia.

Laurie Magid, acting United States attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, said in a statement, “These schemes were designed to corrupt the market and reap large profits for these defendants at the expense of the average investor.”

Mr. Laikin was accused of promising kickbacks to a stock promoter to raise the value of National Lampoon’s stock.

The investigation was conducted by the Philadelphia offices of the F.B.I., the Securities and Exchange Commission and the United States attorney.

Prosecutors said a seventh defendant, the stock promoter Eduardo Rodriguez, 49, of Livingston, N.J., enlisted other promoters to use insider information provided by the companies and drive up the share price of National Lampoon and two other companies, the Advatech Corporation of Florida, and Swedish Vegas of California. Richard J. Margulies, the chief financial officer of Advatech, is a defendant.

The stock buys were made from March to June and timed to the release of public announcements to avoid suspicion. But a witness in Pennsylvania, not part of the government but using F.B.I. funds, exposed the plan after pretending to cooperate in raising National Lampoon’s stock to $2.50 to $5 a share, from $1.87 in mid-March.

Mr. Laikin, 46, controls about 40 percent of the company’s 8.9 million outstanding shares. Had the plan succeeded, the value of his stake could have increased by up to $15 million, Ms. Magid said.

An assistant United States attorney, Derek A. Cohen, who with Louis D. Lappen will prosecute the case in Philadelphia, said Mr. Laikin was working out the terms of his release.

Mr. Laikin’s assistant, Cora Victoriano, said the company had no immediate comment.

The S.E.C. also filed civil charges against the seven defendants. Daniel Hawke, director of the S.E.C.’s regional office in Philadelphia, said paying illicit kickbacks to arrange manipulative trades “is brazen misconduct and threatens to destroy any sense of fairness that investors expect in the financial markets.”

Mr. Hawke said that trading of National Lampoon shares was halted at 9:30 a.m. on Monday. Shares closed Friday at 73 cents on the American Stock Exchange.



Give and Take

Marsha Scarbrough

Millimeter, Nov 1, 2000

was criticized for paying third-world workers less than a living wage
to assemble expensive sneakers, yet filmmakers brag about making a
killing at the box office with movies put together by unpaid artists
and technicians. While farm workers struggle for fair wages, film
professionals willingly work for free. What gives?

production costs low by using donated labor and services is a
time-honored practice, but recent advances in digital technology
coupled with last year’s huge financial success of The Blair Witch Project
spawned a cottage industry of no-budget productions. The blessing is
that it is infinitely easier and cheaper for filmmakers to realize
their artistic vision without corporate interference. The curse is that
profits rarely trickle back to the artists and technicians who work
without pay.

The issues are not all black and white. Both hiring
free labor and laboring for free have advantages and disadvantages.
Millimeter recently spoke to several ultra-low-budget directors and
producers who hire free help, as well to a few cast and crew members
who volunteer their services. Shawna Brakefield, indie outreach
director for Screen Actors Guild, lends her thoughts on free labor –
and the law.

The Unpaid Picture: Producers and Directors

Besides saving the filmmaker a lot of money, using donated talent and labor also creates a built-in support system.

Reggie Rock Bythewood, who wrote, produced, and directed Dancing in September
on a budget of $1 million, used volunteers to fill positions from P.A.
to producer. He did it, he says, to gather a committed crew.

somebody is going to work for nearly nothing,” says Bythewood, “it
means their commitment goes beyond financial concerns. They are either
committed to the individual who is making the film, the subject matter,
the script, or the vision of the piece. Basically, you have a crew of
people who are passionate about the project.”

The appeal of a
supportive team also motivates writer/director Dean Noble, who has
produced four short films with volunteer cast and crew, including his
latest project, Kung Fu Kitchen. “When I’m feeling down about my career
and what I’ve accomplished artistically,” Noble observes, “I just have
to step back and say, `These people have believed in you and have
stepped up to the plate. They have spent time, precious resources, and
talent in support of a project that you initiated.'”

On the
downside, though, filmmakers admit that unpaid can mean unreliable. “I
wasn’t sure how many crew members I was going to have, who was going to
show up day to day, or how long they could stay,” says Noble of his
experience with Kung Fu Kitchen. “You’re just happy to have them for as
long as you can get them.” Bythewood concurs: “It’s really hard to keep
people committed over an extended period of time. The people who remain
committed, you just cherish.”

With unpaid labor, filmmakers must
also juggle shooting schedules around actors’ availability. “In one
case, it was so somebody could go to lunch with her aunt,” remembers
Noble. Don Haderlein, writer/director of Moonbeams, a no-budget digital
feature with a cast and crew made up entirely of family and friends,
takes the flexibility in stride. “If someone was tired or had to go,
they could leave freely,” he says. “If a paying job came up for
somebody, they were allowed to be absent, so no one resented being

Producers and directors must also remember that many
technicians who work for free are rookies seeking experience. Their
lack of expertise can cause delays, compromise quality, and even lead
to serious mistakes.

Some mistakes were made in Kung Fu Kitchen’s
production sound, and, as a result, the entire film will probably have
to be looped. But Noble remains unfazed. “If you don’t have money, you
have to spend time,” he reasons. “And yes, you will spend time
correcting mistakes.”

The Unpaid Picture: Cast and Crew

Cast and crew members also have pros and cons to examine when
considering whether or not they should work for free. Are the creative
opportunities and experience that ultra-low-budget films often deliver
worth the weeks off a paying job?

Warren Yeager, SOC, Kung Fu Kitchen’s
director of photography, is a member of IATSE Local 600, yet often
volunteers on short or spec projects as a way to stretch his skills,
add credits to his resume, and experiment on someone else’s dime.
Equally important is the opportunity to build working relationships
with directors who can hire him in the future or recommend him for
paying work. “That’s the real advantage of it,” he notes. “You have to
get into somebody’s loop, and you have to do it with enough people –
because most people in the industry aren’t going to make it.”

Yeager asks for a written deferred-deal memo on any project that he
feels has commercial potential, he has only seen one project pay off.
So, since his chances of actually making money are slim, he volunteers
mostly for shorts with limited schedules that do not interfere with
paying jobs. “If it was a two-month feature for free that they were
really trying to market, then that would be exploitive,” he says.

are more liberal with their time. Special-effects make-up artist Brian
Sipe first spent a month creating three Chinese demons for Kung Fu Kitchen
and then hours on the set applying his creations to the actors. If
Noble had had to pay for the work, it would have cost him over $20,000.

explains the reasons for his generosity: “We’re given a chance to shine
for ourselves rather than shine for somebody else. Dean gave me all the
creative control I wanted or needed. Now I can add that to my

With unpaid work, actors often have the chance to
show off a fuller range of skills than their paid work allows. But
ultra-low-budget working conditions – with their nonexistent dressing
rooms, brutal hours, and fast-food catering – can also be punishing.

“Everyone is not at their best,” comments actor Craig Ng, who played a role in Kung Fu Kitchen. “It starts out as really fun project, but by the end of the shoot, it’s just a mess.”

the up side, though, Ng appreciates how low-budget films have allowed
him to become more involved in the creative process. In addition to
acting in Kung Fu Kitchen, he helped with casting, brought in the stunt
choreographer, and even suggested locations. “It just kept my creative
process going so much for everything that when it came to acting, I was
able to put more of myself in there,” he says.

The Unpaid Picture: Unions

On Kung Fu Kitchen, Ng worked under the SAG Experimental
Film contract, one of five low-budget contracts that Screen Actors
Guild (www.sag.org) designed to protect its members while allowing them
to do ultra-low-budget projects. Dancing in September was also done under a SAG low-budget agreement.

Brakefield, SAG’s indie outreach director, explains that the low-budget
contracts have various budget caps ranging from $75,000 to two million
dollars. The contracts offer much-reduced rates, and the experimental
contract allows performers to defer their entire salaries. The
contracts are basically sub-agreements of the SAG theatrical contract,
so rules governing overtime and working conditions apply, and residuals
are due performers if a film makes a profit. (At press time, SAG was
revamping the agreements, and officials expected to announce new
revisions this month. For more information, contact SAG’s theatrical
contracts department at 323-549-6828.)

“Sometimes actors need the
union to protect them from themselves,” comments Brakefield. “It’s the
biggest myth in Hollywood that actors want to work for free.”

also points out that the SAG contracts protect filmmakers from losing
actors who get a paying job in the middle of an unpaid project. “The
actors are hired to do a job, and they must render professional
services. They can’t not go back to work,” she explains.

everyone goes through unions. Mark Pirro, who has been writing,
producing, and directing ultra-low budget films for 18 years, says he
can always find actors who are willing to work for nothing without the
protection of a SAG low-budget contract. “There are so many people in
this town who want to do it for the footage,” he says.

resists the SAG low-budget agreements for “the same reason I don’t want
to get married even though I can live with a girl the rest of my life.
You’re further complicating an already complicated thing.” Pirro finds
the SAG conditions too structured for his ways of working and says that
he is not able to pass profits along to his actors according to their
contributions because he keeps no records.

Although he is not
against unions, Pirro does think that they should never have the right
to stop anyone from working, especially when those workers are unpaid.
“If actors aren’t getting paid, then they are not working,” he reasons.
“I don’t see how any union can stop anyone from volunteering their

To Brakefield, this argument is just making the union the
“bad guy” and taking the easy way out. “The more responsible way is
literally taking responsibility for your show, keeping good
administration, exchanging with everybody, and putting in a deal memo,”
she counters.

Brakefield also says that Pirro and other
ultra-low-budget producers who do not carry liability insurance or
workman’s compensation are breaking the law. “If you are telling
someone to show up at a certain time and work a certain number of
hours, you are instantly classified as an employer,” she explains.
“State law requires employers to carry workman’s compensation.”

to the SAG low-budget agreements must provide workman’s comp for their
actors. “If the producer is smart,” adds Brakefield, “when they buy
their workman’s comp package, they don’t just buy it for the actors.
They buy it for everybody, so the entire crew is covered.”

doesn’t see it that way. “If somebody’s there and they get hurt, they
aren’t really my employees if they are not getting paid,” he states.

The Unpaid Picture … Unpaid

After producers and directors consider the pros and cons of
using unpaid labor and official union contracts, and after cast and
crew decide whether or not unpaid work is a good career move, one fact
remains: The chances of an ultra-low-budget film becoming the next Blair Witch Project are minuscule. In reality, even a modest profit eludes most productions.

fact, like unpaid labor itself, can be good and bad. “I guess I don’t
feel exploited,” concludes Ng, “because I’ve never seen anything I’ve
worked on amount to anything.”

DGA Goes Ultra Low

SAG is not the only organization creating contracts that sanction
members’ involvement in low-budget work. Directors Guild of America
(www.dga.org) also has contracts that allow members to volunteer under
certain conditions.

For example, an agreement with American Film
Institute allows DGA members to work on AFI student projects without
pay. Students learn from professional assistant directors and UPMs,
while DGA members make connections with up-and-coming directors. The
agreement also allows DGA members to advance their careers by gaining
experience and credits in higher categories: Second ADs can work as
First ADs, and First ADs can work as UPMs.

DGA also has an
experimental agreement that allows members to work for free on projects
intended as demo reels or for the festival circuit. These films cannot
be longer than 30 minutes or cost more than $50,000. If profits result,
the contract provides for negotiated payment.

“If it’s not to
make money and our members want to do it, we’re flexible,” states Brian
Unger, DGA’s Western executive director. “But if somebody comes to us
and says, `I want to make this thing for $30,000, and a big distributor
is going to distribute my movie’, we say `no’. You don’t get a break
when there is that kind of potential.”