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Margie Barron

Margie Barron

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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  When I got the announcement for the L.A. Comedy Shorts Film Festival, I had to laugh. The photo/logo for the event was a swarm of photographers shooting a beerbelly fellow on the red carpet, who was wearing nothing more than raggedy cutoff shorts. Yep, sometimes it's okay to laugh at something short!
  That's the whole point of the Comedy Shorts festival, which is celebrating its third year. And let's face it, we really need some good belly laughs nowadays.
  LACSFF is touted as the largest comedy film festival in the U.S., introducing the freshest comedy talent in the industry. The four day celebration of comedic short films and the people who make them is being held from April 7 to 10. Screenings at the Downtown Independent Theater, 251 S. Main Street, L.A.
  The festival director Jeannie Roshar says, "Some films have the power to change the world. Our films have the power to change your mood. And then once you're in a better mood, go for it on the 'world changing thing.'" I like her attitude!
  I also like the enthusiasm of the festival's co-founder and artistic director Gary Anthony Williams who says, "We've scoured the solar systems for the funniest short films ever seen-- and not seen. And we've strategically crammed them into a jam-packed 4-day weekend of unforgiving stupid-funnility. This is science, folks. Funny science." You've gotta love it!
  Among the shenanigans they'll be offering include kicking off with an opening night screening of celebrity shorts, starring the talent of Michael Cera, Kids in the Hall's Scott Thompson, Rex Lee from Entourage, and Tim Daly, along with new shorts from FunnyorDie.com. The competitive line-up features 85 short films from around the world. Filmmakers compete for more than $25,000 in cash and prizes. There are also lots of cocktail receptions and parties.
  For the events and screening schedule go to www.lacomedyshorts.com and go and support your fellow "short" filmmakers-- or go and steal a few ideas and think about entering the festival next year-- or go and just have some laughs. Lord knows we need 'em.
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   There's a new movie "remake" that's being showcased by Universal Studios. To be honest, it's not really a feature film, it's actually a video. And it's not being released in the theaters, it's being shown on the Studio Tour at Universal Studios Hollywood-- one of my favorite places in the world.
   Jimmy Fallon is the "star" of the new video, which will take visitors behind the scenes of the movie and television industry's biggest hits. Fallon, the host of NBC's Late Night with Jimmy Fallon becomes the ride's "virtual Studio Tour Guide."  Jimmy will be seen introducing a series of videos that will be seen on the High Definition monitors on each studio tram. As always, there will also be "live" narration from the professional Universal tour guides.
   Fallon says, "We really had fun with filming my role. We brought some writers out from our show and added some jokes, more play with the Studio Tour guides, the tram drivers, and we added a song or two."
   Fallon adds, "The tour itself is a classic, a really great experience. For anyone with any interest in show business, it's all there-- the glamour, the glitz, all the hard work that goes into making a movie or a TV show can be experienced on the Universal Studios Hollywood Studio Tour. I'm very happy to be part of it."

   The new remake of the Studio Tour video with Fallon is just the latest in the enhancements to Universal Studios Hollywood. Last year the "King Kong 360 3-D" experience created by producer-director Peter Jackson was unveiled. Plus, last year Steven Speilberg was on hand for the re-opening of the newly rebuilt New York Street backlot, which gives guests on the studio tour a front row look at moviemaking.
   It's all part of the Hollywood magic I continue to enjoy everytime I visit the studio. For me, this stuff never gets old.
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   The Hollywood Arts Council held their 25th annual Charlie Awards at a luncheon at the Roosevelt Hotel in the heart of Hollywood. A wax figure of Charlie Chaplin, for whom the showbiz awards were named, was on display, along with an incredible life-like statue of Larry King, brought in by Madame Tussauds Wax Museum just for the event. The real Larry King was there to be honored with the Council's Media Arts Award for his broadcasting career and long-running CNN interview show.
   Committed to showing off the best of Hollywood, the Charlie Awards honor individuals and companies for their significant contributions to the arts and to the community. President of the Hollywood Arts Council Nyla Arslanian said the organization believes that the arts revitalize people as well as communities. And the council has sponsored the Project S.O.A.R. after-school art programs, as well as the annual Children's Festival of the Arts in August.
   A lot of good people and good companies were recognized at the event, including the president of Hudson Pacific Properties, Howard Stern, who received the Hollywood Arts Award for their development of Sunset Gower Studios. Hudson Pacific's Christopher Barton was also there, along with Terri Melkonian, v.p. sales and marketing for Sunset Gower/ Sunset Bronson Studios. Actress Connie Stevens made the presentation and had some wonderful memories of the former Columbia Studios lot.
 Other honors handed out were the Theatre Arts Award to the Celebration Theatre; Architectural Arts to the LaBelle at Hollywood Tower; Community Arts to the Nine O'Clock Players/Assistance League of Southern California; and the Entertainment Arts Award to Hollywood's Starline Tours.

   The event's emcee was KABC Channel 7's "Entertainment Guru" George Pennacchio, and Hollywood Arts Council trustee Oscar Arslanian, publisher of "Discover Hollywood Magazine," produced this year's Charlie Awards celebration. It was great to see Hollywood at its best and all the folks who make it proud.
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   It's easy to like the folks at the Hallmark Channel. They've been producing a lot of great ratings-grabbing family-friendly original movies that have made the cable network grow by leaps and bounds. And I see those productions as providing much-needed jobs in our industry. Because these days, every little bit helps.
   The broadcast networks got out of the original movie business a long time ago,  and so it seems Hallmark is filling the void in a big way.
  Recently there have been big announcements from Hallmark Channels, with the emphasis on their original productions (mostly shot in the U.S.). The Hallmark Channel and spin-off Hallmark Movie Channel, intends to reposition itself under the umbrella title Crown Media Networks. This year, Crown Media will present a whopping 25 Hallmark Channel original movies, mostly holiday-themed, which has worked very well for the network.
   In addition there are eight Hallmark Movie Channel original premiere movies scheduled; a new 13-episode unscripted lifestyle series called The Spirit Table, hosted by Maya Angelou; and original Hallmark Channel animated special, Jingle All the Way, a half-hour show featuring a Hallmark cards character Jingle the Husky Pup.
   Martha Stewart shows will be back, with 160 hours of original programming including two one-hour primetime interview specials. Plus the 123rd Tournament of Roses Parade will air again on Hallmark. And Hallmark Channel Home's lifestyle block will feature original series Emeril's Table, hosted by celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse.
   There's no indication that Hallmark will get into the scripted series business for their regular schedule. But their ratings are solid without that right now. The Hallmark Movie Channel, a Nielsen-rated network, is now in 40 million homes, and projected to pass the 50 million subscriber mark by the end of next year. Continued success obviously means more crews working on Hallmark movies. Thank you.

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 "A Night at Sardi's" is an event that has Hollywood and Broadway talent come together, and we just attended the 19th annual awards and fundraiser benefiting the Alzheimer's Association. A lot of incredible talent was there presenting and performing, but the biggest star of the night didn't sing or dance. Robert A. Iger, president and CEO of The Walt Disney Company, was honored with the Abe Burrows Entertainment Award. And it was great to see such a giant in the industry get the spotlight for being such a wonderful person.
 Laurie Burrows Grad created this annual event to honor her father, the late playwright-director Abe Burrows, who was a victim of Alzheimer's. Iger was recognized for his extraordinary commitment to the mission of the Alzheimer's. Laurie said, "He is a long-standing supporter of 'A Night at Sardi's' serving as an Honorary Dinner Co-Chair for the past few years."

  The award was particularly meaningful for Iger, who revealed that his mother has Alzheimer's. He respectfully gave credit to both his parents saying everything he has achieved, "I owe to them, because it all started with their love and support." What Iger has achieved is being the steward of the world's largest media company and some of the most beloved brands around the globe.

 On hand to support the cause and enjoy the entertaining evening were industry notables Jeffrey Katzenberg, Jerry Bruckheimer, Brian Grazer, and Judd Apatow with wife Leslie Mann. Performing great Cole Porter tunes throughout the night were David Hyde Pierce (a long-time Alzheimer's advocate), SAG president Ken Howard, Wendie Malick, Vanessa Williams, Scott Bakula, Nick Jonas, Betty White, and many more, along with Seth Rogen who did a fine job with his hosting duties. They made "A Night at Sardi's" a night to remember.
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   Lucy Walker's film Waste Land was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, and Independent Lens will air it April 19 on PBS.
   It is just one of her many impressive productions (Devil's Playground, Blindsight), so it was interesting to hear Walker's response when asked-- Which is the best investment a filmmaker can make-- Grad School for Film, or make a film? She says, "I was super-lucky, as I had scholarships to help pay for most of my going to NYU Grad Film school. And also I had a lot to learn as I had never made a film before, and also I got a visa to come to NYC, so for me film school was a dream package."
   But she acknowledges that "It is awfully expensive, and if I'd been in a different position I wouldn't have been able to go to NYU. I just advised a friend to leave film school and spend the money on a project. It can be a lot of debt to build up and head into an uncertain industry."
  Then again, she says what's great about film school is that you "learn a lot, meet a great group of peers, and it really forces you to concentrate on making your projects. If I hadn't been at film school, it would have been so much harder for me to actually finish my short films, concentrate on my own projects, not work for other people, all that." So she says it's really a personal case-by-case question for every individual.
   Waste Land follows Brazilian artist Vik Muniz, who travels to his native Rio de Janiero to create portraits of the local trash pickers out of the garbage they collect at the world's largest landfill. Walker had another film out last year called Countdown to Zero, about nuclear weapons, which she calls "the most urgent and important subject. And very scary."
   Walker calls working in the documentary film business an interesting journey, and refers to the last 15 years of non fiction films the "golden age of documentaries."
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Thursday, 10 March 2011 07:58

ICG Publicists Awards Honors PR's Best

   There were some great moments at the 48th annual ICG Publicists Awards. Certainly a highlight was when Arnold Schwarzenegger (action star/former California govenor) showed up to pay tribute to Sylvester Stallone. Sly got a Lifetime Achievement Award, and took the time to thank the publicity professionals in attendance for working hard and making him look better than he deserves.
  Stallone, mega-star, producer, director, and writer, has had an enduring career, with 35 movies that have grossed over $2 billion. Most famous for the Rocky and Rambo series of films, last year he had the blockbuster The Expendables, and is currently in preproduction for the sequel. A remarkable fact is that Stallone has had a number-one boxoffice movie in every decade for the past fifty years.
   In the room full of publicists, who have seen stars come and go, everyone was in agreement that Stallone's Lifetime Achievement honor was well deserved.
   Among the other well deserved awards handed out at the luncheon ceremony at the Beverly Hilton, was to Henri Bollinger, the longtime Publicists Guild chairman. He was feted for the work he has done for the Publicists organization for more than three decades. Steven Poster, president of the International Cinematographers Guild which represents the publicists, presented the award to Bollinger, who was genuinely surprised.
   Matt Damon showed up in his pajamas, saying he had been up all night working, and presented the Les Mason Award for achievement to Viewpoint agency chief Jennifer Allen.
   The Bob Yeager Award honoring a PR person for outstanding community service went to Rosalind Jarret, SAG's publicity dynamo.
   The publicity campaigns for The Social Network and the Warner Bros. TV/CBS sitcom The Big Bang Theory won the Maxwell Weinberg Publicists Showmanship Awards. For excellence in Unit Still Photography, Stephen Vaughan got an award for movies, and Danny Feld for TV.
   Among the notable veteran publicists enjoying the event was the always-promoting Julian Meyers, 93, and A.C. Lyles, 92, the longtime Paramount Studios "can-do" fellow. The ICG Publicists directory was dedicated to Murray Weissman, 84, still running great campaigns for awards season.
   It was great to see the good P.R. folks behind the scenes finally get some recognition.
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 Making films for foreign markets is complicated. That's what the legendary filmmaker Roger Corman told Frank Barron when they got together for a chat about the business, and I was there to listen to the two Hollywood veterans.
 Corman said the international film business can be profitable with their various tax incentives. But there are strict rules. And the filmmakers have to consider where in the world they will be selling the film. Certain countries don't allow nudity. Others don't allow excess violence, or certain weapons being shown. All of that and many more factors, that have nothing to do with the storytelling, come into play during the production and editing process, if you want to sell to foreign markets.
 As for filming across America, the tax incentives and credits have been helpful, but Corman believes politicians can make a bigger difference in keeping film companies in the U.S.
 Years ago, Corman went to Washington to speak to legislators. Needless to say, it was a frustrating experience. He said, "I don't think the people in Washington are really aware of the immense economic importance of Hollywood productions."
 Corman made a great point comparing the aircraft industry to the motion picture production industry. I'm sure he had research to back his statement when he said, "After the aircraft industry, motion picutres and television are the Number One export dollar earners for the U.S. And the aircraft industry is essentially subsidized by the government. So essentially, we are the Number One industry. But it means nothing to them (government)."
 He said, "As a producer I am obviously concerned about budgets and runaway productions, but all things economic are important. I am reacting to the economic reality."
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