Paramount Global Stock Surges 15% Tuesday After Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Buys In – Update


May 17, 2022 2:09pm


UPDATED with closing price:  Shares of Paramount Global shot up more than 15% to close at $32.32 Tuesday after Berkshire Hathaway, the company of legendary investor Warren Buffett, disclosed late yesterday that it acquired a chunky stake in the company.

The shares, among the best performers, opened up 10% — following a 1% dip yesterday. They’re still well off a 52-week high of $47 but pulling away from a year low of $26.

Berkshire bought almost 69 million shares of Paramount Global during the first quarter, it said in an SEC filing, along with a $2.9 billion stake in giant Citigroup. It also took or boosted positions in Activision Blizzard and Apple as well as Ally Financial, Markel, McKesson, Celanese, Occidental Petroleum and Chevron. Overall, the investing giant acquired $51 billion worth of stocks during the first quarter of the year.

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The SEC requires institutional investors that manage more than $100 million to disclose equity holdings within 45 days after a quarter ends.

Buffett often looks for value, investing in stocks he likes during a downturn like the one we’ve seen recently. It’s been grim lately. But Paramount, which rebranded and restructured earlier this year, has taken less of beating than others in the sector as Wall Street skepticism around the limits and cost-benefits of the industry’s massive investment in streaming.

Its first quarter 2022 results saw subscriber gains at its flagship streaming services Paramount+ and Pluto, topping expectations. Paramount said it reached 62 million total streaming subscribers for the first quarter, almost 40 million of that Paramount+.

The TV Media division, whose revenue still makes up more than three-quarters of the company’s total, posted a subdued quarter, though it exceeded estimates on the bottom line. Revenue in the unit fell 6% from the year-ago period, to $5.6 million. Excluding the impact of Super Bowl LV, which was carried by CBS in February 2021, revenue grew 2% year-over-year. Advertising revenue fell 13%, but would have been up 4% without the Super Bowl.

“We have written and are executing on a differentiated playbook to grow a diversified entertainment company and build a financially attractive business with healthy long-term margins,” CEO Bob Bakish said then.

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Ava DuVernay’s ‘Wings Of Fire’ Animated Series Adaptation Not Moving Forward At Netflix


May 17, 2022 1:50pm


Ava DuVernay’s Wings of Fire, an animated series adaptation of the family fantasy books which had been in development at Netflix since 2020, is the latest victim of animation cuts at the streamer, sources close to the project confirm to Deadline. We hear several other projects are not moving forward as well.

DuVernay’s Wings of Fire, written by Tui T. Sutherland, was to be adapted into ten 40-minute episodes. The series was centered around a bitter war that has raged for generations between the dragon tribes who inhabit the epic world of Pyrrhia. According to prophecy, five young dragons will rise to end the bloodshed and bring peace back to the land. Raised and trained in secret from the time they were hatched, the Dragonets of destiny – Clay, Tsunami, Glory, Starflight, and Sunny – embark on an evolving quest that will bring them face to face with their true selves and the overwhelming scope of this savage war they are destined to bring to an end.

2021 Netflix Pilots & Series Orders

Dan Milano and Christa Starr were adapting the series, and were to serve as showrunners and exec producers. DuVernay, Sutherland, Sam Register and Sarah Bremner also exec produced.

The nixing of Wings of Fire follows Netflix’s decision not to move forward with Pearl, Meghan Markle’s animated series that had been in development. It hailed from Markle and Prince Harry’s Archewell Productions as part of their Netflix deal. Netflix also previously scratched two other animated series that were in production — Dino Daycare from Ada Twist, Scientist executive producer Chris Nee, and the South Asian-inspired adventure Boons and Curses.

Earlier today, we reported that Netflix had eliminated about 150 positions from its workforce amid a slowdown in the company’s revenue growth.

Variety was first to report the news.

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Iconic Events Releasing Sets Theatrical Release For Juneteenth Comedy ‘Block Party’; BET, BET+ Take Linear And Streaming Rights


May 17, 2022 1:39pm

Block Party Movie, LLC.

EXCLUSIVE: The Juneteenth comedy Block Party is set for a wide theatrical release via Iconic Events Releasing on June 8, also having been picked up for linear and streaming by BET and BET+ starting June 16.

The film from director Dawn Wilkinson centers on Keke McQueen (Antoinette Robertson), a recent Harvard grad who is eager to ditch her hometown of Grand Rapids, MI, for her dream job in Atlanta. But when Keke discovers that her once-super-sharp Grandma Janice (Academy Award nominee Margaret Avery) is showing early signs of dementia, she puts her career at stake in order to save Grandma’s renowned Juneteenth block party. In the process, Keke falls back in love with her hometown.

Block Party Movie, LLC.

Block Party also stars Faizon Love, Luenell, Golden Brooks, Charlyne Yi, John Amos, Gary Anthony Williams, Brad William Henke, Birgundi Baker, Bill Cobbs, Terayle and Merle Dandridge. Branch Out Productions’ Lisa Mathis wrote the script and story with Krista Suh & Matt Allen. Sui and Allen also produced alongside Mathis for Branch Out Productions, with Robertson and Avery exec producing alongside Brooks, Dan Scheinkman, and Richard Alan Reid of BuzzFeed Studios. Seth Berkowitz of trailer house Workshop Creative is the film’s co-executive producer.

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“We couldn’t be more excited to present the first Juneteenth family comedy that the world has ever seen,” Mathis told Deadline. “Block Party is the very embodiment of Branch Out’s inclusive mission and to see it in theaters and on streaming this June will be amazing. We see this as the first of many diverse films.”

Added Iconic’s CEO, Steve Bunnell: “All of us at Iconic fell in love with Block Party for its comedy, its authenticity, and the uplifting portrayal of life in a midwestern community. This film will be Iconic’s first World Premiere event. This film has never been seen anywhere else and we are proud that everyone across America can come together in theaters starting June 8 to share the love and joy of this important celebration.”

A fast-growing name in event cinema, Iconic Events Releasing brings live and filmed entertainment of all types to movie theaters as special limited engagement events, so that fans can watch their favorites on the big screen. Programming includes live pay-per-view sports, e-sports competitions, anime, music and comedy events, award-winning television specials, Broadway productions, holiday specials, family events, live events for album releases, rock concerts and music docs that celebrate diversity. The company has recently enjoyed successes with jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy, Bo Burnham: Inside, monthly marquee UFC fights and the 25th Anniversary of Selena, and upcoming has a varied slate including the North American premiere of Ryoma! The Prince of Tennis, as part of AX Cinema Nights, in a partnership with Anime Expo.

Branch Out Productions is a female- and Black-owned production company, founded by Lisa Mathis, Lisa Oliver-King and Andola Mathis, which is based out of Grand Rapids. In the past two years, it has also produced Mighty Oak and Run & Gun, both picked up by Paramount. Producing alongside Mathis, Allen, and Suh are industry veterans Gabriel Roth and Marvin Towns Jr.

BuzzFeed Studios and CAA negotiated the deal for Block Party. Wilkinson is repped by Verve; Allen & Suh by Kaplan-Stahler and Zero Gravity Management.

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Los Angeles Mayor’s Race: Jeffrey Katzenberg Donates $600,000 To Pro-Karen Bass Committee As Primary Nears


May 17, 2022 1:37pm

(Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)

Jeffrey Katzenberg has donated $600,000 to an independent committee backing Karen Bass for Los Angeles mayor, as polls show the California congresswoman facing a tight race against billionaire developer Rick Caruso.

The contribution was made earlier this month to Communities United for Bass for Mayor 2022. Katzenberg was among the initial donors to the committee, with a $250,000 contribution to help get the committee started in early March. Other contributions have come from J.J. Abrams and Katie McGrath, who each gave $125,000, as well as other industry figures including Barry Meyer and Jennifer Garner. The committee also is backed by the SEIU. The Los Angeles Times first reported Katzenberg’s recent donation.

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Katzenberg was among the people who helped convince Bass to run last summer, the candidate told Vanity Fair. At the time, there was concern among a number of Los Angeles Democrats that the field needed a star candidate — and Bass fit the bill. President Joe Biden considered her a vice presidential possibility in 2020, as she has served in Congress since 2011 and is the former speaker of the California State Assembly.

Bass, meanwhile, is holding an event on Tuesday at Abrams’ Bad Robot, with co-chairs including McGrath, Shonda Rhimes, Norman and Lyn Lear, Damon and Heidi Lindelof, Nina Shaw, Christy Haubegger and Matt Johnson.

But Caruso’s entrance into the race in February changed the dynamics of the race, creating a genuine rivalry for the front-runner spot. Caruso has been able to use his own personal fortune to blanket the Los Angeles airwaves in a campaign that has focused on homelessness and City Hall corruption. The Los Angeles Times reported in late April that Caruso had spent more than $23 million, compared to $800,000 for Bass. A poll last month shows the two candidates just about tied. Among the Hollywood figures backing Caruso are Netflix’s Ted Sarandos and UTA’s Jay Sures.

The field competing in the June 7 primary has narrowed in recent days. Los Angeles City Councilman Joe Buscaino dropped out last week and endorsed Caruso, while Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer exited the race on Tuesday and threw his backing to Bass. Also running is Councilman Kevin de Leon.


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Disney Reveals ‘Star Wars’ Mystery Series From ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’ Director Jon Watts As Well As Details On ‘Obi-Wan, ‘Andor,’ ‘The Acolyte’


May 17, 2022 1:36pm

Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures/Lucasfilm Ltd./Courtesy Everett Collection

A little more than a week before Disney’s Star Wars Celebration fan event, LucasFilm primed the pump in a lengthy Vanity Fair cover story revealing details about the constellation of Star Wars projects headed for Disney+.

Possibly the most intriguing bit of news in the piece is confirmation of a mystery series from Spider-Man: Homecoming director Jon Watts and writer Chris Ford. Described as a coming-of-age story in the vein of the classic Amblin films of the 1980s — think E.T., Gremlins, The Goonies — it’s set in a galaxy far, far away.

The series’ code name is “Grammar Rodeo” after a Simpsons episode that sees Bart and his pals run away from home. It is said to be set after Return of the Jedi and the fall of the Empire in the same time period as The Mandalorian.

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There’s a bunch of plot and character details in the piece about Andor, which is said to be debuting on Disney+ in late summer 2022.

That series sees Diego Luna reprising his Rogue One character, Cassian Andor, in an examination of his backstory. It’s set during the height of the Empire and begins with the destruction of Andor’s homeworld.

Luna describes the series as “the journey of a migrant…That feeling of having to move is behind this story…That shapes you as a person. It defines you in many ways, and what you are willing to do.”

Tony Gilroy, who worked on the Rogue One script and is creating Andor, describes the motivations and questions that drive it.

“This guy gave his life for the galaxy, right?” asked Gilroy. “I mean, he consciously, soberly, without vanity or recognition, sacrificed himself. Who does that?” he asks, in a query reminiscent of that which hooked director JJ Abrams on Star Wars: The Force Awakens. “That’s what this first season is about,” continues Gilroy. “It’s about him being really revolution-averse, and cynical, and lost, and kind of a mess.”

In terms of setting, Gilroy says, “His adopted home will become the base of our whole first season, and we watch that place become radicalized…The Empire is expanding rapidly. They’re wiping out anybody who’s in their way.”

The show will also include a fan favorite, the enigmatic Rebel leader Mon Mothma, whose story will run parallel to Andor’s.

More immediately, Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christensen describe what intrigued them about revisiting Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader, whose relationship the show’s guiding force Deborah Chow calls “a love story.”

McGregor says he had reservations about the character after shooting the films. But he says in 2017, before a screening of the prequels, “They asked me if I would want to introduce one, and I’ve never done anything like that, but suddenly, it just struck me that I really did want to.” McGregor says his change of heart “has to do with growing up.” Despite harsh reviews of the trilogy, he realized that fans loved him his portrayal of Obi-Wan — and that he did too.

Even more than McGregor, Hayden Christensen thought his time wielding a lightsaber was long over. But the thought of playing his Star Wars character at the different time of life was very appealing.

“This is a character that has come to define my life in so many ways,” he says in the piece. “I was originally hired to play a very specific portion of this person’s life. Most of my work was with Anakin. And now I get to come back and explore the character of Darth Vader.”

Of his discussion with Chow — who also directed episodes of The Mandalorian — Christensen remembers, “A lot of my conversations with Deborah were about wanting to convey this feeling of strength, but also coupled with imprisonment…and I think that’s an interesting space to explore.”

Chow, for her part, says, “For me, across the prequels, through the original trilogy, there’s a love-story dynamic with these two that goes through the whole thing.” Of Obi-Wan and the bond that remains after Anakin turns to the dark side she says, “I don’t think he ever will not care about him. What’s special about that relationship is that they loved each other.”

Finally, there are revelations about The Acolyte, which Deadline reported last December is being created by Leslye Headland and stars The Hate U Give actress Amandla Stenberg.

Headland says, the series is set about a century before The Phantom Menace and the driving questions behind it included, “How did things get to this point?’ How did we get to a point where a Sith lord can infiltrate the Senate and none of the Jedi pick up on it? Like, what went wrong? What are the scenarios that led us to this moment?”

The Acolyte is a mystery thriller, according to Headland, that takes place during a prosperous and seemingly peaceful periodv that she describes as “the Renaissance, or the Age of Enlightenment” when Jedis were more cloistered on high, set apart from the world and not “getting into skirmishes.”

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Disney CEO Bob Chapek Opens Upfront By Touting The Company As “The Most Powerful Force In The Industry”


May 17, 2022 1:34pm

Dominic Patten

Disney CEO Bob Chapek opened Disney’s upfront in New York by telling a crowd of several hundred advertisers that the company is “the most powerful force in the industry” and “the most enduring and beloved name in entertainment.”

After a bumpy start to 2022, at least in terms of public perception, Disney has delivered positive results recently, reporting streaming gains and improved theme park revenue in the quarter ending in early April. The upfronts crowd has been anticipating the Disney presentation with particular relish since the news earlier this year that Disney+ is poised to add a cheaper, ad-supported tier. (Chapek’s remarks included a brief tease of that move.)

“Today is a little bit like a homecoming because I started my career in advertising,” Chapek said. “Disney will be celebrating our 100th anniversary later this year, and that is an incredible milestone. I can’t help but think about this moment in the context of what this company has always been, what it is today, and what it will be.”

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Before embarking on his three-decade run at Disney, Chapek worked in brand management at H.J. Heinz, and at ad agency J. Walter Thompson.

The company’s storytellers and technological advances over its first century, Chapek continued, have “repeatedly defined and then redefined the entertainment landscape.” They have helped Disney stories “access a very special place in the hearts of all audiences,” he added, and the company has also also created an “unmatched synergy machine” in order to connect those stories with audiences.

Chapek is the first top-level CEO of a participating company to speak thus far at the upfronts, a series of annual ad pitches running through Thursday. (NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell delivered remarks on Monday, but the structure is different at Comcast/NBCU.) Traditionally, ad sales and production execs dominate the stages during upfronts week.

The last time the upfronts were held in person, in 2019, Disney had merged previously separate presentations for ESPN and Hulu into the main event, alongside ABC and its cable networks. That streamlining will add a Disney+ element this time around, given that ad buyers will be able to get in on the company’s flagship service.

Breaking with its longtime precedent of hosting the upfront at Lincoln Center, Disney set up in Basketball City, a venue along the East River in lower Manhattan, not far from its ESPN studio facility at South Street Seaport. Chapek and other speakers stood at the center of a long, catwalk-like stage spanning the width of the seven basketball courts that usually fill the space.

Along with the entertainment portfolio, across linear and streaming, production and distribution, Chapek added a reference to live events in news and sports as well as the company’s theme parks. “You can access” that ecosystem, he told ad buyers, “by partnering with us.”

Wrapping up his four-minute start to the presentation, Chapek concluded, “When you look at the entertainment landscape, I believe Disney stands alone. And in case you can’t tell, I’m incredibly optimistic about Disney’s future and one of the reasons is our fantastic leadership team.”

He then introduced Kareem Daniel, a former Chapek protégé installed in 2020 after Chapek took over as CEO in the newly created role of Chairman of Disney Media and Entertainment Distribution.

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Ashley Momtaheni To Lead Global Communications At Prince Harry & Meghan Markle’s Archewell


May 17, 2022 1:08pm


Archewell has named public relations vet Ashley Momtaheni as EVP of Global Communications. She starts May 30.

Momtaheni will oversee all communications efforts for the various divisions of the organization which was founded by Prince Harry and Meghan, The Duke and Duchess of Sussex in 2020.

Momtaheni joins Archewell from Universal Filmed Entertainment Group, where she currently serves as VP of Global Communications and Media Relations.

Prior to Universal, Momtaheni held positions at United Talent Agency and Annapurna Pictures. As Director of Corporate Communications at UTA, Momtaheni heightened the profile of the company and its agents and led internal and external communications strategies for the firm.

At Annapurna, she served as Head of Communications and handled press for their film, interactive, television and theatre divisions.

Momtaheni began her career at Warner Bros. and was also previously a producer for ABC’s Good Morning America.

The company currently includes Archewell Foundation, Archewell Audio and Archewell Productions.

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‘The Wheel Of Time’ EP Ted Field’s Radar Pictures Signs With Buchwald


May 17, 2022 1:07pm

Radar Pictures

EXCLUSIVE: Radar Pictures—the independent film and television production company founded by Emmy winner Ted Field, known for its work on the Jumanji and Riddick franchises—has signed with Buchwald for representation.

Field founded Radar in 1999 and heads up the company as CEO. Radar has thus far produced more than 60 features—including The Amityville Horror, The Last Samurai and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre—which have cumulatively grossed over $10 billion worldwide.

Field’s company is also behind Amazon’s epic fantasy television series, The Wheel of Time, based on Robert Jordan’s bestselling book series of the same name, which was renewed for a second season ahead of its series premiere. It’s currently working on a film, titled Age of Legends, set several millennia before the time of the books, which Zack Stentz (Thor) is scripting.

Radar currently controls more than 400 pieces of IP with a growing development pipeline. The company most recently secured the life rights to two-time World Series of Poker Main Event champion Doyle Brunson, with plans to develop a biopic on the legendary player. It also nabbed the rights to the action-adventure video game franchise American McGee’s Alice from publisher Electronic Arts and has attached writer-showrunner David Hayter (Watchmen) to create a series adaptation.

Radar is currently making a push into unscripted television with both reality and docuseries, as well as into Broadway. The company is at the same time expanding into the video game sphere, having recently partnered with LevelN4XT to form the joint venture Radar-N4XT, focused on developing new IP for video games and adapting existing game IP for television and film.

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‘Final Cut’ Cannes Opening-Night Film Review: Michel Hazanavicius’ Very Good Comedy About Making A Very Bad Zombie Flick


May 17, 2022 12:55pm

“Final Cut”
Cannes Film Festival

Originally planned to open the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year before the worsening Covid situation forced the festival to again go virtual, Oscar-winning writer-director Michel Hazanavicius made the right decision in insisting his comedy Final Cut (Coupez!), about the making of a low-budget bad zombie movie, should be presented with a full house in a theatre, thankfully not to be watched on your computer at a prestigious film festival. In holding out for the real thing he scored big as it was chosen as the opening-night out-of-competition film of the 75th Cannes Film Festival.

It seems entirely appropriate that a movie all about the love of making movies should signal the full return of a fest devoted to all things cinema over the course of its 75 years. And for this director, whose 2011 black-and-white silent film The Artist was also a love letter to movies, and also premiered here on its way to Best Picture and Best Director Oscars, this seems fated to be.

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If Cannes was looking for a feel-good, highly entertaining comedy to kick things off in coming fully back to normal after a devastating couple of pandemic-affected years, it has found it in Final Cut (a remake of an ultra low budget 2017 Japanese hit) although you might not know it from the first half hour or so which is essentially about the making of a horrendously awful Z-grade zombie movie in which the French stars all play characters with Japanese names (don’t ask). It is indeed a bloody mess with a plot about an obsessed director making the ultimate snuff film as he discovers a location that was a Japanese killing ground in World War II and is still haunted by death. In order to get “sincerity” he doubles down when one of his actors becomes an actual zombie, infecting the entire production which descends into a horrific hell, as heads and arms fly off and actors and crew become zombie-fied themselves, all for the perfection sought by this crazed filmmaker shooting this all in real time for a live online presentation.

Hazanavicius rehearsed his actual cast over the course of five weeks in order to pull off this sequence, all in one carefully choreographed single shot (with one additional edit added). In retrospect it is an impressive technical achievement, but watching it you wonder what the director actually has in mind. Where could this thing possibly be going? After the “end credits” roll 30 minutes into the film, we soon find out when a screen shot says “one month earlier,” and the making of the making of this film about the making of the zombie movie starts to play out when a zealously enthusiastic Japanese producer named Mme Matsoda (Yoshiro Takehara) attempts to engage director Remi (Romain Duris) on her idea for a French adaptation of a “live” online Japanese zombie film she says was a huge hit in her home country. Despite initially shunning the idea as undoable, Remi is lured into it, and eventually when disaster hits his two key stars 45 minutes before showtime he also takes on the role of the director himself, as does his wife Nadia, a retired actress-turned-makeup artist who had to stop acting because she couldn’t separate her roles from real life. Hazanavicius’ actual wife, Bérénice Bejo, becomes perfect casting in all the iterations of Final Cut, even managing to look fetching with an ax in her head.

This is where Final Cut’s cleverness and charm really come into play as payoff for the first half hour, and the audience gets to see the whole thing put together, warts and all, a magic trick only possible in the movies and that, as he showed in The Artist, is confirmation of its director’s own love for filmmaking and the people in front of and behind the scenes responsible for them — and that includes ones as bad as this film-within-a-film. Even as it deals with zombies and unimaginably awful flicks, this is a tribute to cinema if ever there was one, kind of Hazanavicius’ own Day For Night, but not on the exalted level of the great 1973 Francois Truffaut love letter to making movies. Anyway, this one has zombies.

Joel C. Ryan Invision/AP

It also helps to have a terrific ensemble cast to pull off this hat trick, and led by Duris and Bejo we have one. Finnegan Oldfield as Raphael, the difficult lead actor, and Matilda Lutz as Ava, the lead actress, are both excellent, along with Sebastien Chassagne, Raphael Quenard,  Gregory Gadebois, Jean-Pasal Zidi, Lyes Salem, Agnes Hurstel, Luana Bairami, Charlie Dupont and even Hazanavicius’ two daughters, Raika and Simone, the latter nicely playing the daughter of the film’s fictional director. Takehara is an absolute hoot as the Japanese producer and was in fact in the same role in that original 2017 Japanese film from Shin’ichiro Ueda, One Cut of the Dead, which clearly inspired this more elaborate remake (itself adapted from the play Ghost in the Box) that follows its template.

Alexandre Desplat supplies a perfectly pitched score, and the technical credits are aces all around both in the making of that dreadful zombie movie as well as the movie it is all about. Special shout-out to Jonathan Ricquebourg’s cinematography and the film editing from Mickael Dumontier. Hazanavicius produced along with Brahim Chioua, Alain de la Mata, Noemie Devide, Vincent Maraval and John Penotti. North American distribution should be a no-brainer.

You walk out of Final Cut with a smile on your face, and I can’t think of a better reason than that to kick off the Cannes Film Festival’s big anniversary party this year.

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IATSE Diversity Committee Urges Congress & Joe Biden To Take “Decisive Action” In Wake Of Buffalo Mass Shooting


May 17, 2022 12:55pm

A man consoles his children at the site of Saturday’s mass shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, NY.
Mega Agency

In the wake of the racially motivated mass shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, NY, the IATSE Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee is urging Congress and the Joe Biden administration “to take decisive federal action to combat the rise of racial violence in America.”


“The IATSE and entire labor movement is completely shattered by the senseless and horrific act that occurred on Saturday,” the committee said in a statement posted on the union’s website. “This racially motivated hate crime which took the innocent lives of 10 and wounded three in Buffalo, New York, is a hate-fueled domestic terrorism crisis toward Black people and the larger BIPOC communities in our country.

“We urge the Biden Administration and the United States Congress to take decisive federal action to combat the rise of racial violence in America. Furthermore, we call upon all Americans to speak up to their elected officials and demand overdue legislative action against hate-fueled violence. Like millions across the nation our hearts, thoughts and prayers are with the victims, families and the entire Buffalo community.”

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Tony Nominees See Uptick At Broadway Box Office: ‘A Strange Loop’ Jumps By More Than $200K


May 17, 2022 12:41pm

Jaquel Spivey, ‘A Strange Loop’
Marc J. Franklin

Last week’s Tony Award nominations translated into box office sales for at least some of the contenders, with A Strange Loop seeing the biggest boost. The musical, which topped the Tony list with 11 nominations, saw a $213,871 increase in its weekly grosses, taking in $690,668 for the week ending May 15.

Overall, the 35 Broadway productions grossed $30,349,653, a slight 3% dip from the previous week’s $31,199,660, a decline largely attributable to the $1,054,792 drop in box office at Moulin Rouge! The Musical, which canceled four of its usual eight performances due to Covid cases among the cast. Moulin, with Broadway favorite Derek Klena now leading the cast, took in $537,705 for four performances, filling 91% of available seats.

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Also losing ground was Lincoln Center Theater’s The Skin of Our Teeth, which canceled three performances due to Covid, dropping $58,736 from the previous week to $115,745 for its five performances.

Total attendance for the 35 productions was 246,003, down about 1% from the previous week’s 36-show roster (The Little Prince closed May 8).

Patti LuPone and Katrina Lenk in ‘Company’
Matthew Murphy

Other productions that showed some post-nomination box office gains were American Buffalo (up $21,662 to $536,164); for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf (up $90,261 to $249,354); Girl From The North Country (up $14,524 to $289,305); Hangmen (up $35,893 to $288,436); How I Learned To Drive (up $47,908 to $364,925); Paradise Square (up $41,935 to $235,604); POTUS (up $81,191 to $461,864 ); Six (up $28,167 to $1,190,681) and The Minutes (up $40,615 to $386,898 ). MJ held even at $1,352,143, while both Company (up $102,851 to $719,968 ) and Take Me Out (up $123,042 to $474,951) showed noticeable upswings in a week that saw Tony nominations and non-award headlines for each (see here and here).

Mr. Saturday Night, which received five Tony nominations including one for star Billy Crystal, was up by $293,436 (to $858,847 for seven performances) after playing only five performances the previous week due to non-Covid illness.

Still, even with the post-nomination bumps, the roster was showing some strain under the weight of all the recent openings (15 in April), with no fewer than 10 shows filling only 65% or less of their available seats: Beetlejuice, Birthday Candles, Come From Away, For Colored Girls, Girl From The North Country, Hangmen, Mrs. Doubtfire, POTUS, The Phantom of The Opera and The Skin of Our Teeth.

At the other end of the spectrum, filling more than 90% of their seats: Aladdin, Funny Girl, Hadestown, Hamilton, Macbeth, MJ The Musical, Moulin Rouge!, Plaza Suite, Six, Take Me Out, The Book of Mormon, The Lion King and, selling out, The Music Man.

Average ticket price for all shows for the week was $123 with Funny Girl, Hadestown, Hamilton, Macbeth, MJ, Mr. Saturday Night, Plaza Suite, Six, The Book of Mormon, The Lion King and Wicked hitting that average price or higher, and The Music Man topping them all with a $275 average price.

Season to date, Broadway has grossed $812,064,730, with attendance of 6,471,585 at 82% of capacity.

The 35 productions reporting figures on Broadway last week were Aladdin; American Buffalo; Beetlejuice; Birthday Candles; The Book of Mormon; Chicago; Come From Away; Company; Dear Evan Hansen; for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf; Funny Girl; Girl From The North Country; Hadestown; Hamilton; Hangmen; Harry Potter and the Cursed Child; How I Learned To Drive; The Lion King; MJ; The Minutes; Moulin Rouge!; Mr. Saturday Night; Mrs. Doubtfire; The Music Man; Paradise Square; The Phantom of the Opera; Plaza Suite; POTUS; Six; The Skin of Our Teeth; A Strange Loop; Take Me Out; Tina; and Wicked.

All figures courtesy of the Broadway League.

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Patricia Velasquez, Rumer Willis & More Set For Social Impact Film ‘Maya’ From Director Julia Verdin


May 17, 2022 12:37pm

Patricia Velasquez, Rumer Willis
Robert Craig Films

EXCLUSIVE: Patricia Velasquez (The Mummy), Gian Franco Rodriguez (Halston), Rumer Willis (Sorority Row), Billy Budinich (Frank and Penelope) and newcomer Isabella Feliciana will star in the social impact film Maya from director Julia Verdin (Angie: Lost Girls), which has entered production in Los Angeles.

The film written by Verdin looks to raise awareness on key issues including child trafficking, domestic violence, alcoholism and child abuse. It’s inspired by true events and will show how predators use social media to lure vulnerable teens into their lair.

When Maya (Feliciana) is six years old, her father abandons her and her mother Camila. This, of course, has a lasting effect on them both. Camila resorts to seeking comfort in alcohol and an abusive boyfriend, with Maya suffers from feeling unlovable. No longer feeling safe in her own home, Maya searches for comfort outside of her family—finding it in Ray (Budinich), an edgy, yet charming young man who befriends her online. He positions himself as Maya’s protector and encourages her to escape her home life and move in with him. After a brief honeymoon period in Las Vegas, Maya soon finds out that tragically, Ray is not the shiny knight in armor that she believes he is. He’s actually a pimp who manipulates her into a dark world of prostitution.

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Maya is being produced and funded by Verdin’s Artists for Change—a non-profit with a mission to create entertainment driving social change—in association with Robert Craig Films, Rough Diamond Productions and Fibonacci Films. Verdin, Jason Piette, Robert Craig, Sean Acosta and Morris S. Levy are producing, with John Jacobs, Lucy Lewis, Kim Robson, Victoria Hill, Greg Clark, John and Jet Lewis, John Manly, Tara Smith, Julian Lennon, Luanne Morrow and Tom Wallerstein exec producing.

“Trafficking is the second biggest criminal activity in America today,” said Verdin. “Our goal with Artists for Change is to educate through film and prevent teenagers and our youth from being trafficked.”

Verdin is a writer, director and producer with over 30 years in the business who previously wrote and directed the award-winning child trafficking film Angie: Lost Girls, which premiered on the Lifetime Channel and is available on a host of streaming platforms. She became emotionally connected to the cause of fighting for justice for helpless girls and boys trapped in an endless cycle of crime after volunteering at a runaway children’s shelter and meeting teenage survivors of trafficking. She is the owner of Rough Diamond Productions, and has also been behind such films as The Merchant Of Venice, Stander and 2 Jacks.

Velasquez is represented by Insurge-Ent; Rodriguez by APA, Elixir Entertainment and Jackoway Austen Tyerman; Willis by Untitled Entertainment and Gang, Tyre, Ramer; Budinich by Sovereign Talent Group; and Feliciana by AEFH.

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Colson Baker-Starring ‘Taurus’ Acquired By RLJE Films Ahead Of Tribeca Festival Premiere


May 16, 2022 2:00pm

Colson Baker in “Taurus”
RLJE Films

EXCLUSIVE: RLJE Films has acquired North American rights to Taurus, the film starring Colson Baker (aka Machine Gun Kelly). The drama, which had its world premiere earlier this year at the Berlin Film Festival, is gearing up for its North American premiere next month at the Tribeca Festival. It will now get a theatrical release later this year.

The pic, written and directed by Tim Sutton, stars Baker as a rising but troubled musician who spends his days and nights searching for the inspiration to record his next song. His assistant (Maddie Hasson) wants to save him, his collaborators (Scoot McNairy, Demetrius ‘Lil Meech’ Flenory Jr and Lil TJay) want him in the studio, while his dealer (Ruby Rose) and his ex (Megan Fox) push him deeper into the void.

Jib Polhemus produced alongside Rob Paris and Mike Witherill via their Rivulet Media banner. Sutton, Baker and Gul Karakiz are executive producers. The film’s soundtrack features new music from Machine Gun Kelly, Naomi Wild, Travis Barker and others.

“We couldn’t be more thrilled to share both the acting and musical talent of Colson Baker with his legion of fans with Taurus,” RLJE chief acquisitions officer Mark Ward said. “This film is a labor of love for Tim and Colson and their passion for this project truly shows on screen.”

RLJE Films’ Ward and Betsy Rodgers negotiated the deal with Anonymous Content and Paradigm for the filmmakers.

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Sony Pictures Imageworks Appoints Laura Fitzpatrick As Vice President, New Business


May 16, 2022 1:59pm


EXCLUSIVE: Laura Fitzpatrick has joined Sony Pictures Imageworks as Vice President, New Business. In her new role, she will be responsible for third party VFX business development and strategic planning for long-term growth. She will also oversee worldwide sales, marketing and client engagement, reporting to Executive Vice President Michelle Grady. Upcoming projects Fitzpatrick will have a hand in include the animated features The Sea Beast and Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.

Fitzpatrick most recently served as Global Managing Director at visual effects company Mr. X, where she was responsible for strategic growth planning, financial oversight, and management of teams across multiple facilities.

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“Laura is a strategic, forward-thinking executive who is admired by peers throughout the industry,” said Grady. “We are extremely excited to welcome Laura into the Imageworks fold.”

“I am thrilled to join the award-winning team at Sony Pictures Imageworks,” added Fitzpatrick. “Their creativity and innovative genius is unparalleled in the industry and I look forward to expanding their feature and episodic business.”

Prior to her time at Mr. X, Fitzpatrick worked at MPC as an executive producer and VFX producer on projects including Artemis Fowl, X-Men: Dark Phoenix, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, The Greatest Showman, Murder on the Orient Express, Blade Runner 2049 and Maleficent. The UK native also previously held VFX producer roles at Pixomondo, Digital Domain and Cinesite. She began her her career in 2006 at Peerless Camera Company, where she worked on a variety of feature and short projects.

Sony Pictures Imageworks Inc. is a unit of Sony Pictures Entertainment’s Motion Picture Group—a VFX and computer animation studio based in Vancouver and Culver City. The company received Oscars for its work on Spider-Man 2 and the animated short The ChubbChubbs!, and has also contributed to the effects and animation of films including Spider-Man: No Way Home, Vivo, The Mitchells vs. the Machines and Mulan, among many others.

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U.S. Covid Death Toll Hits 1 Million, According To CDC


May 16, 2022 1:57pm

While a number of outlets have reported the milestone as already surpassed, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday made it official: More than one million Americans have lost their lives in cases related to Covid-19. The real toll is likely much higher.

The death toll is “equivalent to a 9/11 attack every day for 336 days,” according to The Associated Press, which confirmed the news today. “It is roughly equal to how many Americans died in the Civil War and World War II combined.”

The number is roughly in like with an assessment made by CDC’s top disease modelers in February, 2020, as reported that March by the New York Times, but was likely unimaginable to most laypeople.

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Between 160 million and 214 million people in the United States could be infected over the course of the epidemic, according to a projection that encompasses the range of the four scenarios. That could last months or even over a year, with infections concentrated in shorter periods, staggered across time in different communities, experts said. As many as 200,000 to 1.7 million people could die.

In the same month, the nation saw its first death related to the virus. At the time, a confident-sounding President Donald Trump said, “Additional cases in the United States are likely. But healthy individuals should be able to fully recover…Our country is prepared for any circumstance.”

Like the president, most Americans seemed to have no idea what was coming. Nor did most Americans have more than a hazy idea that, in 1918, the country had suffered another pandemic, dubbed “The Great Influenza.” Even those who did had a very hard time imagining that the nation could lose more lives in the 2020 pandemic than it had in 1918.

According to the CDC archive of the event, that number was 675,000. The country passed that mark on September 15, 2021. It has seen another 335,000 in the seven months since.

Earlier this month, a group of top experts convened by the World Health Organization and the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs calculated excess mortality related to the pandemic between the beginning of 2020 and the end of 2021 at approximately 14.9 million lives lost, with a range from 13.3 million to 16.6 million.

An estimate from The Lancet of excess mortality worldwide due to Covid-19 over the course of 2020 and 2021 pegged the full death toll at more than 18 million.

The United States leads all other countries in the number of deaths seen from the virus. While it’s unknown how large our share of those excess deaths is, it’s a sensible bet that it is substantial.

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