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    Universal Studios Hollywood has become the most exciting tourist attraction in Los Angeles. And there was a big announcement that will bring even more excitement to the landmark studio in the New Year.
    The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which debuted at the Universal Orlando resort two years ago, is coming to Hollywood. The attraction will be a joint venture of Warner Bros. Entertainment and Universal Parks and Resorts. "The announcement of our partnership with Universal to bring The Wizarding World of Harry Potter to Hollywood and expand what already exists in Orlando is probably the best gift we could give the legions of Harry Potter fans worldwide," said Barry Meyer, chairman and CEO of Warner Bros. "Everyone involved with this projects is committed to continuing the enchantment of J.K. Rowling's masterful books as they were brought to life on screen in our eight films and dedicated to extending the magic of the experience for generations of fans to come."
    The big news was made over a Butterbeer toast in front of the Globe Theatre at Universal. Lots of VIPs and studios executives were on hand to raise their mugs with non-alcoholic Butterbeer to drink in celebration.
   On hand were California Gov. Jerry Brown, and actors James Phelps and Oliver Phelps who played Fred and George Weasley in the Harry Potter film series. Kids dressed as Hogwarts students also cheered.
    Ron Meyer, president and COO of Universal Studios said, "This is an incredible moment for Universal Studios and the millions of guests who visit our theme parks." Joining Meyer at the big announcement were Larry Kurzweil, president Universal Studios Hollywood, and Tom Williams, CEO-chairman of Universal Parks and Resorts.

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   A lady who has been a leading opponent to the military junta in power in Burma, and won the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts, is the subject of a powerful movie called The Lady. Bringing Aung San Suu Kyi's story to the screen was also a fight, but thanks to Michelle Yeoh (who stars as The Lady) and director Luc Besson, and produce Virginie Besson-Silla the movie is now out in a few independent theaters. Of course it's competing with the Twilight Saga and Muppet Movie. But better than boxoffice dollars, this little film may actually put pressure on Burma's leaders to bow to the call for elections in the country. That's the power of film.
   I saw The Lady at a KCET Cinema Series screening and was impressed by the beauty of the storytelling, and learning about how the producers got it made. Filming took place in Thailand and England, and cameramen were risking their lives to get footage out of Burma.
    "It took me just one hour to read the script," Besson-Silla reported. "I knew right away that EuropaCorp Company must produce it. If you're going to struggle for a couple of years and be totally involved in a project, you must be blown away at once."
    She said that she and Luc Besson had the same vision of the film, and what mattered was focusing on the purpose of the project and dealing with the financial aspect later. Producer Andy Harris reported, "After three years of working without finacial support it was wonderful to join forces with Europacorp and have the opportunity to make this film with Luc Besson, who is a director I have always hugely admired."
   The release of the film comes at a time when the democracy movement in Burma needs a lot of attention on the world stage. All involved with it can be proud that it is a story well told and puts the spotlight on the extraordinary courage of a determined lady and her followers. The filmmakers also deserve Kudos.

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   The Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) organization had their annual Big Bash at the Beverly Hilton Hotel last month. The BBBS celebrates making a big difference and changing young lives for the better through mentoring, and there are always extraordinary honorees. Last year it was Anne Sweeny, the head of Disney ABC Media Networks, and the honor was presented by her good friend, former Paramount Studios chief Sherry Lansing, who is a driving force with BBBS. Both have become mentors and Big Sisters to some very lucky Little Sisters who have seen the entertainment industry from a POV that few get to experience. Both Anne and Sherry have said that they have been luck enough to have extraordinary mentors in their lives, so it is important that they now become mentors to others.
   This year's worthy honoree was Kenny Ortega, the award-winning producer-director-choreographer. Most recently he was behind the Michael Jackson documentary film "This Is It," and now he is getting ready to bring the musical "In The Heights" to the big screen. He has a remake of "Dirty Dancing" on his slate, too. It's a familiar territory for Ortega since he choreographed the original.
   From chatting with Kenny for more than two decades, visiting him on the sets when he was directing the TV series "Hull High" and the movie "Hocus Pocus," I personally know what a dynamo guy he is. He made the "High School Musical" franchise into an inspiring success for Disney Studios. So it was a joy to see him accept the 2011 Walt Disney Man of the Year Award.
   Ortega accepted thanking the Walt Disney company for their creative association with the films and TV productions they've done together. He gave a nod to the mentors and teachers in his life saying "the men and women who took time out of their lives to nourish mine, to guide and steer and enlighten me along my way. Mentors like Gene Kelly, Raul Julia, Michael Jackson, Dawn Steele, and my father."
   The honor was so perfect for the inspiring filmmaker who believes and acts on the words of Walt Disney, who said, "If you can dream it, you can do it." Ortega said, "I believe that is what Big Brothers Big Sisters is all about."

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   It was a real thrill to be around the folks who put the "wow" and the "pow" in the productions as they gathered to celebrate their exciting history. The Stuntmen's Association of Motion Pictures had a 50th anniversary gala and it was a great place to be to truly appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into their profession. The organization's Conrad Palmisano deserves kudos for putting the evening together. Event chair was Jonathan Arthur, who showed a clip reel of stunts dating from the silent film era to the present. "It's a proud time for all of us. We get to do some pretty amazing things,"  said SAMP president Mark Donaldson.
   C. Thomas Howell was the emcee for the event. The son of stuntman Chris Howell, Thomas talked about getting started in the industry as a kid doing stunts for Steven Spielberg in ET.
   SAMP handed out some honors at the celebration. Harrison Ford was on hand to get the first Richard Farnsworth Award, named for the stuntman who became an Oscar-nominated actor.  Ford was in good humor and expressed his respect for all the stunt professionals. After watching a clip reel of his action scenes in various movies, Ford said, "That was about 90 per cent of other people pretending to be me."
   Donaldson paid tribute to stuntman-pilot extraordinaire Thomas H. Friedkin, who was honored with the President's Award. Friedkin was unable to attend but sent a heartfelt message of gratitude.
   The event was a benefit for the SAG Foundation which helps performers in need. Pamela Reed, first v.p. of the SAG Foundation, promised the foundation would "spend the funds wisely."
    It was a great group of people to be around, fun-loving folks who love the thrills in life. Howell put it best when he expressed his respect for the stuntmen and women saying, "You look death in the eye and kick its ass on a daily basis."

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It's what makes the industry fun. Every year horror film aficionados gather at the Globe Theater at Universal Studios Hollywood for the Eyegore Awards which honors the genre and its filmmakers. A highlight of the event was seeing shocker-rocker filmmaker Rob Zombie present Rainn Wilson an Eyegore Award. Wilson didn't get his trophy for his work as Dwight, the oddball employee on NBC's sitcom The Office. Instead Wilson got it for his odd role as "Fishboy" in Rob Zombie's House of 1000 Corpses. It was a genuine thrill for Wilson, who praised the experience of working with Zombie, and said, "I never thought I'd be standing her with you freaks, getting an Eyegore Award at Universal. I mean, have you guys ever seen a movie where a cheerleader isn't getting shot in the face? I get recognized for a lot of things now, but the thing that always gets me the most excited is when someone comes up to me and yells, 'Fishboy!'" On hand to cheer for Wilson were his 1000 Corpses castmates Sherri Moon, Karen Black and past Eyegore winner Sid Haig.

Other Eyegore winners were David Arquette, for his Deputy Dewey role in Wes Craven's Scream film franchise. Also Jamie Kennedy got an award for his fanboy Randy Meeks role in a couple of the Scream movies. It was presented by director James Gunn to helmed the film Slither. Bailee Madison, 11, played the tormented little girl in Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, and gave a very mature Oscar-worthy acceptance speech thanking her producer Guillermo del Toro. Emma Bell (The Walking Dead) got her Eyegore presented by her Frozen director Adam Green.

Alice Cooper was honored with an Eyegore, but he was on a concert tour so his daughter Calico accepted, and also praised the maze her dad created for Universal's Halloween Horror Nights. Rob Zombie also designed a 3-D maze, and Eli Roth did a maze based on his Hostel films to frighten the visitors to the studio. Universal's creative director John Murdy helped announce the winner of the short horror film contest. Brent Bokovoy of El Cajon won, showing a flair for filmmaking with his Monsters in My Swimming Pool scary story. He was encouraged and thrilled to be surrounded by his fun-loving horror film heroes at Universal.

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   It was interesting to read the "Mission Statement" of the Bel-Air Film Festival. It says, "The Bel-Air Film Festival promotes the appreciation and knowledge of film, and seeks to recognize the most creative films and individuals in the film industry each year. The Festival's goal is to inspire filmmakers and help provide them with the resources needed to further their knowledge." Well said! I personally think that statement should be etched in stone and put on the desk of every studio executive in town, because that's what studios should think about when they green-light a project. Of course, if those creative films and individuals can make some money, that would be nice too.
   What is nice is that the fourth annual Bel-Air Film Festival, set for Oct. 12 to 17, has a great lineup of 36 films, which will include the world premiere of My Father's Will, written and directed by Fraydun Manocherian. And some very creative individuals will be honored during the festivities: writing partners Babaloo Mandel and Lowell Ganz (Happy Days, Splash, A League of Their Own), producer Bob Yari (Crash, The Illusionist), and actor Victor Alfieri (Angels and Demons, Southland, Persons Unknown).
   Adding some fun to the opening night of the festival is a poker fundraiser, which will benefit the Bel-Air Film and Arts non-profit organization, which helps film students attending the USC School of Cinematic Arts, among others. Opening Night Red Carpet Gala held at the Skirball Cultural Center will be hosted by Don Cheadle (Crash, Hotel Rwanda), Kathy Najimy and Mimi Rogers. Other events during the festival will be at the Luxe Sunset Hotel, and the UCLA James Bridges Theatre. For more information about screenings and tickets got to www.belairfilmfestival.com, and go and enjoy the movies!

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 Filmmaker and actor Eli Roth has a couple of interesting projects upcoming. One is hosting an episode of the new landmark series on the Discovery Channel called "Curiosity," which gives him the opportunity to examine the nature of fear. The other is also a scary project, judging Universal Studios Hollywood's Halloween Horror Nights annual short film competition.
 On "Curiosity," horror master Roth ("Cabin Fever") is going to probe the dark side of human nature by "testing the nature of evil." Roth told me he was passionate about doing the show because "I've always been facinated by the nature of fear. Even in my films, the 'Hostel' movies, I was always much more interested in why somebody would do such terrible things, versus the act itself. Being Jewish, we grew up learning about the Holocaust, asking the question 'How could this happen?' So I've always looked at evil, and asked 'What is evil?'
  Roth's judging duties for Universal's Horror Nights short film competition started with him daring aspiring filmmakers to submit their most twisted horror short films. Along with Daily Variety's Marc Graser, and Universal Studios' creative director John Murdy, Roth has selected the top ten shorts from all the submissions. Now the top ten have been posted online at www.HalloweenHorrorNights.com, and a winner will be selected by public voting from Aug. 22 to Sept. 9. The winner will be honored at Universal's annual Eyegore Awards, Sept. 23, which is the grand opening for the Halloween Horror Nights.
  Himself an Eyegore Award recipient, Roth said, "As a producer, I'm always looking for new talent, and happy to help a first time director get a big break. New blood, so to speak, is vital for the continuation and growth of our beloved genre. Programs like this can help deserving people get noticed. I am excited to see the competing films, and whoever makes me lose the most sleep will win."

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 At the Television Critics Association's 27th annual TCA Awards, television's best programs were honored. It was a big treat to see "Friday Night Lights" take a final bow after a five-year run, receiving this year's Program of the Year award from the TCA. The DirecTV/NBC drama, which filmed in Texas, always had a small but loyal following, and this year it is also nominated for a bunch of Emmy Awards. When producer-writer Jason Katims took the stage at the Beverly Hilton to accept, he acknowledged the Texas high school football-themed series has been a favorite of the critics since its debut, and it was their support that kept the show on the air.
 Nick Offerman from NBC's "Parks and Recreation" emceed the awards, and also tied with Ty Burrell from "Modern Family" for an Individual Achievement in Comedy honor.  ABC's "Modern Family" co-creator/producer Steve Levitan was on hand to accept the TCA's Comedy Series award.
  Jon Hamm picke up an award for Individual Achievement in Drama for his role in "Mad Men," which was also honored as best dramatic series. "Mad Men's" creator/producer Matthew Weiner accepted and joked that it was "hard to continue as a creative person when you  lose the enemy," referring to all the critical praise he has received.
 The brilliantly updated "Sherlock," written by Steven Moffat for the BBC and PBS' Masterpiece Theatre won Outstanding Achievement in Movies/Miniseries. Producer Beryl Vertue said they are hard at work on the next installments of the Masterpiece films.

 Oprah Winfrey taped a message to thank the critics for her Career Achievement award. The "Dick Van Dyke Show" was acknowledged with the TCA's Heritage Award, accepted by the classic comedy's creator-producer-writer and occasional star Carl Reiner. "Sesame Street" won the Youth Programming award, with Roscoe Orman accepting and paying tribute to the amazing man who started it all, Jim Henson. HBO's "Game of Thrones" won for Best New Program. And the TCA's first reality series award went to "The Amazing Race," created by Bertram van Muster and Elise Doganieri, who are always Emmy's darlings in the category.

 The National Geographic Channel's "Restrepo" won for News & Information. The intense documentary about a combat unit in Afghanistan was co-directed by Sebastian Junger and the late Tim Hetherington who died while covering the rebellion in Libya. It was a reminder that TV is much more than mindless entertainment. I've been a member of the TCAs for about 25 years now, and it is always great to see excellence in programming honored.

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   It's always interesting to get an idea of how successful productions are developed. So I had the opportunity to ask the top guys at HBO, Richard Plepler, co-president, and Michael Lombardo, president HBO programming, who know a lot about how to get high-quality successful productions on the air, such as their "Game of Thrones." The medieval fantasy, which has been picked up for a second season already, has been nominated for 13 Emmys.
   What is HBO's philosophy in developing programs, and could the broadcast networks take a cue from them? Plepler notes that HBO is doing something different than the networks, and he says, "The great benefit that we have is that when a creative voice comes in, and we feel that we have a shared vision about what they're trying to do. And they are breathing that idea, and we can see it, and we think it fits with our brand and the direction that we're going. We're betting on that talent."
   Plepler says the first meeting he and Lombardo had with producers/creators David Benioff and Dan Weiss for "Game of Thrones," was encouraging for everyone.  "You knew that they breathed that show. You knew they understood it. You knew that they felt it, and that made us very comfortable."
   He says HBO is not determining success on the basis of numbers. "We're determining success on the basis of quality. And we believe that the numbers will follow. And if on a show like 'Treme,' which we think is of the highest quality, and a show that we're very, very proud of, does a smaller number, that's okay as part of the canvas that we're drawing on. It's just a very different business model."

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    As part of Universal Studios Hollywood's ambitious expansion plan, Universal CityWalk  recently launched its new high-tech performance "5 Towers" concert plaza. There was a party atmosphere for the inauguration, as it came at the start of Universal's summer series of free weekend outdoor concerts.  Cee Lo Green (The Voice) was the first performer to rock the center stage, and he had the honor of unveling the state-of-the-art concert set up. The interactive "5 Towers" area lets everyone see all the action going on, with a new giant screen over the stage, showing off the performers in great detail.
   For his performance, Green utilized the wild lighting features that electrified the crowd of thousands. Everyone was bathed in a colorful shower of lights. Lights and graphics are one of the coolest features of the new 31-foot-by-24-foot stage.
   In addition to the sophisticated visuals, the acoustic elements are also praise-worthy. It features custom-built acoustical panels that complement the venue's audio system. It controls the distribution of sound and targets sound waves directly into the arena while minimizing performance echo in surrounding areas.
   High-definition cameras have been positioned within the venue to further elevate the dynamic environment by capturing video of the audience and guests, and broadcasting them on the 26-foot-by14-foot high definition LED display monitor centrally mounted above the concert stage.
   The elaborate concert centerpiece is equipped with thousands of LED fixtures, motion capture sensory, five soaring 42-foot light tower sculptures, a massive video monitor and cutting-edge audio system-- all to enhance great performances. The NBC Universal location is often used by Jay Leno for The Tonight Show filming segments, as well as other local shoots.


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   There was wildlife all around at the recent National Wildlife Federation's 75th anniversary celebration. Real wildlife such as an eagle, cougar, porcupine, and a grey wolf, among the celebrities and other attendees at the NWF's "Voices for Wildlife" gala. I got up-close with six-foot-plus Spike the alligator, because I've had a strong affinity for the reptile since I was in the (1980) movie-thriller "Alligator."
   It was important to show the animals to the supporters of the organization, according to Larry J. Schweiger, president and CEO of the NWF, "to inspire a love of wildlife, and to reinvigorate our commitment to protect them." Every guest at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel event got a copy of Schweiger's powerful book "Last Chance, Preserving Life on Earth."
   The event was emceed by comedienne Annabelle Gurwitch who handed out awards to acclaimed nature photographer Howard Ruby, founder of Oakwood Worldwide. Chevy Chase presented to world-renowned animal expert Jack Hanna ("Into the Wild").
    The Wildlife Hero honor went to film producer Lawrence Bender, who exploded onto the Hollywood scene with the cult-classic "Reservoir Dogs." He has gone on to produce Quentin Tarantino's films, among many other productions. Bender was acknowledged by the NWF because he produced the documentary "An Inconvenient Truth," for which he won an Academy Award.
   Bender talked about the impact of turning Al Gore's environmental slideshow into a movie to spread awareness of climate change. Following the film's success, Bender noted, "I was able to see first hand with 'An Inconvenient Truth,' how much a movie can educate and start a movement." Kudos for making a movie that makes a difference.

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   It was a unique little newsletter that focused on location filming, when we first discovered Location Update 25 years ago, and started contributing stories. It was created by our publisher and friend James Thompson who had the vision to fill the need in the production community that was underserved.
 Thompson worked with productions and the location managers and scouts, and knew they needed up-to-date information about film commissions, crews, studios, and equipment. So the little newsletter was transformed into a slick magazine called Location Update.
  It had a fine editorial team and contributing writers, and my husband, Frank Barron (erstwhile editor of The Hollywood Reporter) and I were proud that the impressive magazine gained respect in Hollywood very quickly.
   Jim Thompson knew the entertainment industry and made sure the publication kept pace with the changes over the years in the world of production. Location Update, with most of the emphasis on location filming, evolved into Production Update, with more overall production coverage.
  And now it has become even more current with a grasp of the industry with P3 Update, unifying global preproduction, production and postproduction. The 3 "Ps" that run the business have become very high-tech, and that technology now gets its share of the spotlight on the pages of the magazine.
  Frank and I have enjoyed writing for Jim since the beginning, and now we work with his great editor Sally Kemper, who has been tremendous in P3's expansion.
  Our stories have included On Location features, and the monthly Production Notes. But our favorite stories have been the Industry Profiles we've done over the years with the giants in the business. We've talked to Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, Ron Howard, Jerry Bruckheimer, Mark Burnett, Clint Eastwood, Robert Redford, Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, Ken Burns, and the legendary Roger Corman, to name a few of more than 100 top mega-filmmakers and the heads of studios we have interviewed for 25 years.
  It's been a privilege, and it continues.

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 The Syfy channel's "Red Faction: Origins" is a TV movie that is literally out of this world. The action-adventure story is set on Mars, and based on the successful "Red Faction" video games. So where does the production team go to recreate the Red Planet?

 Director Michael Nankin says, "We shot it in Bulgaria in the winter, which is as close as you can get to Mars. It was very cold on the sound stages. We added a line in the film that explains 'the terraformers made the air breathable, but it didn't move Mars any closer to the sun.'" That was to explain all the cold fog coming out of the actors' mouths. The actors note that they had to cope with the cold and constantly chew on ice cubes before doing their scenes against the green screen, to keep their breath from being too visible.

 Although the Mars Rover sent back pictures of a rocky uninhabited Red Planet, that was not the location the production was looking for. Nankin explains, "Bulgaria gave us the Mars of the story, which has been developed as a mining colony for 200 years.  And the evil overlords have been kicked out 20 years before, which is exactly what happened in Bulgaria. We found a Soviet-era steel mill that had been rusting for 20 years. I think it was 25 miles long, and that become our Eos location. We found a series of caves, and that location gave us quite a bit. Then, of course, we used CGI for spaceships and those kinds of things."

 The movie will act as a pilot for a future Syfy series, anticipating strong ratings for its June 4 premiere, according to executive producer Andrew Kreisberg. It is an unusual production that is a first of its kind trans-media deal, debuting less than a week after the "Red Faction Armageddon" video game is released. The movie is produced by Universal Cable Productions and UFO Films, based on the video game franchise from THQ.

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   There was a celebration with the cast, crew and staff of ABC's hit show "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," which has helped create, design, build, and make dreams come true for many deserving and inspiring families. It was called the "Extreme Thank You Party" hosted by Nature's Own and Hollywood Branded Inc., a leader in global entertainment marketing. They really made you realize how important the partnership is with the show and its product brands to help the production with the home makeovers.

   The event took on a "construction site" theme at the Book Bindery in Culver City, and wonderful brands helped pamper all the happy helpers. Among the celebrities on hand were "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" designers Paige Hemmis, Jillian Harris, and Tracy Hutson. They were beaming about having been part of another great season of big surprises. And there were surprises at the party with wonderful brands being showcased: iComfort by Serta,  Gigaset Communications, Syneron giving guests the opportunity to relax with a VelaShape spa treatment, and Dearfoams, which allowed the ladies to kick off their sky-high heels and slip into their cozy slippers.

   Hemmis and Hutson told me they are longtime supporters of Habitat for Humanity which was on hand to take a bow for the good work they do. The home-building organization benefitted from event donations and a silent auction. They also talked about the amazing Habitat volunteers, and sponsors.

   "We are honored to have created such an interactive event allowing brands to directly engage and provide pampering and fun for the hard working individuals of 'Extreme Makevover: Home Edition' and their guests," said Stacy Jones, president of Hollywood Branded Inc. "The cast and crew of the show have spent over 30,000 hours building nearly 200 homes for families in need, and have touched the hearts of millions across the couuntry. This was a special way of saying 'thank you' for making a difference."

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   Nothing breeds success like success. That's the lesson to be learned from the "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise, reports mega-producer Jerry Bruckheimer. The first three "Pirates" movies-- "The Curse of the Black Pearl" in 2003, "Dead Man's Chest" in 2005, and "At World's End" in 2007-- have racked up a staggering $2.6 billion worldwide. When that happens, Bruckheimer says, "You understand pretty quickly that a message is being sent to you by the audiences." And that message is...make more movies. So the fourth installment of the adventures of Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp),  "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides," is poised to add big bucks to the producer's and Disney Studios' coffers. And obviously more are planned.

   According to Bruckheimer the most difficult thing to do was getting the screenplay right, because that what lures everyone to the production. The producer doesn't think he would have gotten Johnny Depp to come back and do another sequel, or assemble the rest of the cast, unless there was a good story to tell. So Depp was working with the script process with screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, and the production team.

   Thanks to the script, Bruckheimer says it was a real coo to get Rob Marshall at the helm of "Pirates," calling the director (an Oscar-winner for "Chicago") an "ultimate master at what he does." He is a filmmaker unafraid to take real risks and tackle the biggest challenges. Marshall's background in film, musical theatre and choreography were very beneficial directing all the action. The fights and chase scenes show off the skills of someone who understands movement. The flow of the action is to be appreciated by fans and industry folks alike.

   The new "Pirates" movie is well-worth seeing for its storytelling with a flair. It has an enjoyable style that shows how far we've come since the days of Errol Flynn on the silver screen. Now we have Johnny Depp swashbuckling in 3D, with more to come.

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Product placement isn't a new phenomenon. In the 1800s, Jules Verne sold the naming rights to shipping companies in Around the World in 80 Days. And in the early days of film, Thomas Edison put ads for his own products in his movies. Television at its infancy had product names above the title of shows such as The Texaco Star Theater, The Colgate Comedy Hour, and Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre. And let's not forget that the beloved soap operas were created by companies for the sole purpose of selling soap.

Now Morgan Spurlock has come out with his latest documentary skewering the way product placements and blatant commercials have become the norm in productions nowadays. His new film POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold is entertaining, but after seeing it, you will probably never look at another movie or television show the same way again. You will notice all the advertisements going on, even the most subtle ones.

Not only does Spurlock examine the co-promotions and partnerships the entertainment industry have forged with brands, he also had his entire movie paid for by product placements and ads in his production. That's pure genius, only if you don't consider him a "sell out."

 There was a recent episode of Fringe, and an intense scene where the special agent had to call for help. I couldn't help but notice that she was calling from a Sprint phone. And there was an escape in a Ford car.  Damn you, Spurlock.

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   A great new production company wants to make films about moments in history. But more importantly, The American Film Company wants to emphasis truth and accuracy. That noble ambition has been realized in The Conspirator, the debut film from The American Film Company, which is directed by Robert Redford.
   It is an unknown story about a military tribunal in the wake of Abraham Lincoln's assassination, focusing on the trial of Mary Surratt, who ran the boarding house where John Wilkes Booth met and conspired to kill the president. It is more than a courtroom drama. The story reflects how justice takes a backseat when there's a push for a political agenda. It's a very contemporary theme against the political backdrop of post-Civil War Washington.
   Producer Brian Falk with The American Film Company said he sent the original screenplay (by James D. Solomon) to Redford, who questioned if the story was true. He was amazed that such a fascinating piece of history had been overlooked all these years. Falk said, "This is one of those stories that everybody thinks they know, but it really is a story that nobody knows. Everybody understands that Lincoln was killed by an actor named John Wilkes Booth. What they don't know is that it's part of this much larger, more complex conspiracy."
   In order to get the accuracy for Washington D.C. in 1865, the production shot in Savannah, Georgia. Falk said, "We went up and down the east coast in 2009 looking for locations, and found that Savannah had all the atmosphere and architecturet to recreate that moment in history. The big tax break in Georgia was a tremendous help. So were the people from Savannah who embraced the film."
   The Conspirator is a great film to launch The American Film Company, which Falk said is dedicated to "producing entertaining and historically accurate films. That's a bit of a tall order, but we're proud of our efforts."

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   A networking conference that helps independent filmmakers is the great idea that Crystal Callahan has created with an event called Happy Independents Day, on April 17. "It serves as a celebration of indie producers, and I expect it to be the go-to affair of the season," says Callahan. She is offering a jam-packed eight-hour professional platform that serves to build a creative community and gather resources while networking. "It's a way to connect in an authentic personal way, meeting with comrades in the creative community." For ticket information you can go to the website www.happyindependentsday.com, for the event at Monk Space LA, Raw Underground Warehouse, 4414 West 2nd Street, Los Angeles. It's from 4 p.m. to midnight.

   So what should the Indie Producers expect? Callahan told me she has put together a program that addresses the real needs of indies. "We have four speakers who will talk about production insurance, equipment rentals, sales, and financing." The conference event starts at 4 p.m. Then on the schedule from 5 to 9 p.m., feature speakers will talk about raising money, showcasing work, and taking careers to the next level. From 9 until midnight it turns into a celebration that becomes a networking dance party. Callahan says the inaugural event will help "connect, entertain, educate, and inspire our production community." And she wants all indies to know, "We are stronger together. The value of the event can be summed up by saying, 'networking equals an increase in creativity, contacts, and ultimately cash flow.' That is a clear circle that has happened for so many." That sounds good.


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It was important that the movie Soul Surfer got the support of the surfing community, according to producer David Brookwell, who's been surfing for more than 30 years. The movie was shot on Oahu's popular North Shore surfing beaches, and is about the Hawaiian teen surfer Bethany Hamilton who lost her arm in a shark attack, but went on to become a surfing champion. Director Sean McNamara is also a die-hard surfer and was dedicated to the accuracy of the film from Brookwell McNamara Entertainment.

"You can't just show up at the beach with a bunch of cameras and start shooting in Hawaii," Brookwell explained to me when we sat down after a screening of the remarkable film. "You've got to get the local surfers behind you, and you need their support because they don't really want you there." And Brookwell said that if the surfing scenes weren't done right, he'd hear about it when he'd paddle out to his home break. Luckily the movie is a triumph of the spirit of all who made it possible.

As credits roll, Brookwell said the footage at the end of the film was provided by the Hamilton family, showing the actual events in Bethany's life that were depicted in the movie. They mirror some of the most touching scenes, like getting up on the surfboard for the first time after the shark attack, and various competitions. The clips show the care and accuracy taken to tell the story. In addition to being very faithful and spiritual, McNamara believes Soul Surfer speaks to anyone who has ever faced tough odds while reaching for a dream. That gets home break support for sure.


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   Productions that focused on the humane treatment of all creatures great and small were honored at this year's Humane Society's Genesis Awards. The acclaimed movie that was lauded by all the animal lovers was DreamWorks Animation's boxoffice champ How To Train Your Dragon. It received an Outstanding Feature Film award for its inspiring message about tolerance and respect for all living creatures. The Elephant in the Living Room won in the Outstanding Feature Documentary category, for its disturbing look at exotic pet ownership. Oh my, it emphasized that it is a growing trend, and just opened in theaters in Los Angeles and New York, for those who are fascinated by the issue.
   There was a surprise among the TV productions to pick up awards, with Comedy Central's The Colbert Report winning the Sid Caesar Comedy Award for satirizing bullfighters. HBO's True Blood was named the Outstanding Dramatic Series for a unique storyline about a shape-shifter abused through dogfighting. The Oprah Winfrey Show got the Outstanding Talk Show award for two animal-themed shows spotlighting Japan's dolphin slaughter, pet overpopulation, and elephant poaching.
   Kristin Davis received the prestigious Wyler Award, named about the Genesis Awards founder Gretchen Wyler. Davis was recognized for the Oprah show she did that brought media attention to the orphaned African elephants impacted by the increase in elephant poaching for their ivory tusks.
   The gala night marked The Humane Society of the United States' 25th Anniversary of the Genesis Awards, held at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza. Featuring The event was taped for an April 30 premiere broadcast on Animal Planet. I'm sure viewers will find it one of the few awards shows that's as educational as it is entertaining.

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