The Mechanics of Hollywood

Producer and former studio executive Bill Mechanic discussed his long career and the changes rocking Hollywood July 12 at the Peninsula Beverly Hills during a talk presented by DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group’s Canon Club and sponsored by Deloitte.

Mechanic ran what was then the home video unit at Walt Disney Studios from 1984 until 1994. Under his watch, the division grew from $30 million to more than $3 billion and brought to market some of the top-selling home video releases of all time, including Aladdin, which in its first three weeks of VHS release sold more than 16 million units. Mechanic also pioneered direct selling to mass merchants and Disney’s celebrated “moratorium” strategy, in which an animated classic is only available for a limited time before it is returned to the vault. From 1994 to 2000, he was chairman and CEO of Fox Filmed Entertainment. Currently, he produces movies through his independent production company, Pandemonium Films, which in 2016 released Hacksaw Ridge, directed by Mel Gibson, earning him an Oscar nomination.

Speaking at the Peninsula Beverly Hills, Mechanic said that as an executive at Disney, he decided the stories for girls needed an update after having a daughter himself.

“As much as I love the animated films, once my daughter was born I thought, ‘Well, they’re not really good for her.’ That ‘some day my prince will come to save me,’ essentially, which is the story of almost every one of the Disney films, I thought was a bad narrative,” he said. “I didn’t want my daughter waiting for a prince to save her.”

He also hired women at the studio, noting “like 50% of executives at Disney were women.”

“I found the women worked harder, wanted to prove themselves more, put less ego out front and were just in there driven to do their jobs,” he said. “They just made better executives.”

Women also are the primary decisionmakers in what movies to see, he noted, which prompted him to form a division at Fox.

“My working name for Fox 2000 was ‘The Women’s Division’ because at that point there were no women running production,” he said. “There was not a real female point of view.”

He added, “It wasn’t to make women’s films per se. It was to put the women’s perspective in things.”

He also made films with women protagonists, such as Bad Girls, and worked with female producers, such as Drew Barrymore, and female directors, such as Kathryn Bigelow and Betty Thomas.

Likewise, he broke ground with black audiences. Having grown up in Detroit, where he often was “the only white in a black theater,” Mechanic noted he learned about that market. He went on to produce such movies as Waiting to Exhale, which he convinced the studio to release in the suburban market, instead of just the usual collection of black theaters. The film ended up making millions more than it would have if the distribution had been restricted, he noted.

He also hired black directors, such as Denzel Washington (Antwone Fisher) and Forest Whitaker (Waiting to Exhale, Hope Floats).

Nevertheless, Mechanic has been critical of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and left the organization’s Board of Governors in April with a resignation letter blasting its diversity push.

Referring to the #Oscars So White controversy on Twitter about the lack of diversity in the awards, he said, “Oscars So White  and we’re going to all of a sudden break all of our standards. We’re going to double the size of the Academy. It’s changing what you’re doing instead of going to the root of the problem.”

The solution, he said, is promoting diversity in the business from the ground up.

“Go to the root of the problem. Hire people. Start training programs. Do things that change the basics of what your pool of talent is and don’t sit there and do knee-jerk reactions,” he said.

As for the sexual harassment debacle in Hollywood, he said producers and executives need to take charge.

“You’re job isn’t to let things happen that are bad,” he said.

Still, he questioned how far the industry should go in policing morality.

“I loved City Lights,” he noted, directed by and starring Charlie Chaplin. “I started reading his biography, and he was a pervert.”

He married an underage girl, Mechanic noted.

“Are you not going to listen to Wagner because he was a racist? Are you going to ban D.W. Griffith because of Birth of a Nation?” he asked.

He said there should be some mercy afforded to those who make mistakes, referencing Mel Gibson’s tabloid scandal.

“I think there should be forgiveness,” he said. “Everybody makes mistakes. I put Mel back to work. Ten years is a long time to pay for transgressions.”

Still, he noted, “If you continue the transgressions, there’s no coming back from that.”

As for the current state of entertainment, Mechanic said he is looking for a phoenix-like rebirth of creativity, similar to what happened to American film in the 1930s and 1970s, but he has seen no sign of it yet. He lamented the focus on big-budget franchises and indie award bait to the exclusion of mid-budget productions.

“Right now, the movie business is Rio De Janeiro, and you’ve got bodegas and you’ve got penthouses and there’s a street in between and there are no houses on that street,” Mechanic said, noting “nobody wants to finance” mid-budget movies.

On a day the giant AT&T-Time Warner merger took a big step toward completion with a court victory, Mechanic lamented the effect of conglomerates on content, noting they care only about filling their distribution pipeline.

“The owners of the companies are not in the business that I’m in or I was in,” he said. “They don’t care about the movies. Nobody calls them movies. They call them IPs.”

He said remakes and gender-flip films, such as Oceans 8 and Ghostbusters, are produced “for marketing purposes.”

“It cuts through the clutter,” he said. “People are making brands. They’re not making movies.”

On the rise of subscription streaming services, Mechanic said, “People don’t want to make decisions, so subscription always works better than any kind of transactional thing because you have to make a decision [on what to pay for].”

Still, he cautioned being too intimidated by the rise of services such as Netflix.

“The monster that devoured Hollywood was HBO in 1990 something, and then it was Blockbuster. So there’s always the next monster that’s going to devour Hollywood. Right now, it’s Netflix,” he said.

He noted that Netflix’s growth had plateaued domestically, but he did laud the quality of originals, such as “The Handmaid’s Tale,” on SVOD services.

He said studio executives should ask themselves, “Why are those so good and what you’re making so empty-headed?”

His criticism was not only reserved for studio theatrical divisions; Mechanic also questioned the decisions of the home entertainment industry.

“I think six or seven companies had their head in the sand for the last decade,” he said. “They introduced Blu-ray, which wasn’t any kind of real improvement over DVD. Then all of a sudden you’re collapsing your windows. Why? For a business that doesn’t exist. Why? What did that get you? All you did was destroy the confidence of the consumer.”

Bill Mechanic and Madelyn DiNonno flank Amy Jo Smith, President and CEO of DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group (Photo courtesy DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group)

National Lampoon’s ‘Van Wilder’ Arriving on 4K UHD in August

National Lampoon’s Van Wilder will be released in 4K Ultra HD digitally Aug. 7 and on  4K Ultra HD Blu-ray (with digital copy) Aug. 14 from Lionsgate.

The comedy stars Ryan Reynolds as a seventh-year college student who has no plans to graduate. His slick reputation catches the eye of Gwen Pearson (Tara Reid), an on-campus reporter determined to expose the truth behind his wild exterior.

The release features Dolby Vision HDR and Dolby Atmos audio.

Special features on the 4K Ultra HD Combo Pack ($22.99) include the “Party Legends, Pledges, and ‘Bull’-ies” featurette; the Sweet Drunken Idiot “Kommentary”; the “Ultimate College Party Guide” featurette; the “Gwen-ezuma’s Revenge” featurette; the “Testicles of the Animal Kingdom — Interactive Quizzicle” (Blu-ray Only); “Write That Down,” quotes from and Inspired by the film (Blu-ray Only); the Sugarcult “Bouncing Off the Walls” music video; deleted scenes; outtakes; the Burly Bear TV specials “Half Baked,” “Imposter,” “Movie Junky”; Comedy Central’s “Reel Comedy: National Lampoon’s Van Wilder”; and the “Van Wilder Blu-Book Exam” exclusive Blu-ray interactive game.

‘The Miracle Season’ Due on Disc and Digital July 31 From Fox

The sports film The Miracle Season, starring Helen Hunt, will come out on DVD and digital July 31 from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment and LD Entertainment.

Based on the true story, the film follows the Iowa City West High School girls’ volleyball team as they struggle to compete after the tragic death of their star player, Caroline “Line” Found. They are assisted by a tough-love coach (Hunt) and Caroline’s iron-willed father (William Hurt).

Special features include the featurette “Star Player,” promotional trailers and a photo gallery.

Dish Bows New Amazon Alexa Voice Features on Hopper

Dish June 12 introduced new Amazon Alexa voice capabilities that give customers the ability to set recordings, launch apps and navigate menus on Hopper family set-top boxes.

This update enhances the Hands-Free TV experience by building on Dish’s existing Alexa voice functions, including the ability to play, pause, fast-forward, rewind and search content.

“We are working to create the best Hands-Free TV options for our customers, and these new voice capabilities are an important step in that direction,” said Niraj Desai, Dish VP of product management, in a statement. “Dish customers already love the convenience that our Alexa compatibility brings to their home, so we’re continuously identifying popular voice commands to enhance that experience.”

In April 2017, DISH became the first pay-TV provider to offer direct compatibility with Amazon Alexa, according to the company. In October 2017, the company unveiled whole-home Hands-Free TV by extending Alexa support to all Joey clients, according to Dish.

Dish customers can ask Alexa to navigate, play, pause, fast-forward, rewind and search content based on channel, title, actor or genre. With the newest update, customers can also use Alexa to set recordings, launch apps such as Game Finder, Netflix, Pandora and YouTube, and access the Home, Guide, DVR, On Demand, Settings and Help menus.

All Dish customers with an internet-connected Hopper DVR (all generations), Hopper Duo, Joey (all models) or Wally can ask Alexa to control their TV content after pairing with an Amazon Echo, Echo Show, Echo Dot, Fire TV Cube or another Alexa-enabled device. Each Dish set-top box must be paired with its own Alexa device.

For more information, visit www.dish.com/AmazonAlexaIntegration.

‘Osamu Tezuka’s Metropolis’ Blu-ray Steelbook Coming Oct. 30 From Mill Creek

The 2001 anime film Osamu Tezuka’s Metropolis will be released as a Steelbook Blu-ray and DVD combo  pack on Oct. 30 from Mill Creek Entertainment at $34.98.

With a screenplay by Katsuhiro Otomo (Akira) and directed by Rintaro (Galaxy Express 999, Astro Boy), Osamu Tezuka’s Metropolis is based on the classic manga inspired by the 1927 German silent film of the same name about an industrial, high-tech city of the future. Duke Red, the unofficial leader of Metropolis, plans to unveil a highly advanced robot named Tima, but his violent son Rock distrusts robots and intends to find and destroy Tima. A Japanese detective and his nephew, Kenichi, travel to Metropolis to apprehend a mad scientist, but they instead find the robot girl. While trying to navigate the confusing labyrinth beneath Metropolis and avoid the people chasing her, Tima and Kenichi form a strong friendship that is tested when Duke Red separates them, endangering not only Tima’s life but also the fate of the universe.

Special features include interviews with the filmmakers, “The Making of Osamu Tezuka’s Metropolis,” original Japanese audio (with English subtitles) and a concept art comparison featurette.

 

Season One of ‘The Good Doctor’ Due on DVD Aug. 7 From Sony

The Good Doctor: Season One is coming to DVD Aug. 7 from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

The TV series stars Freddie Highmore (“Bates Motel”) as Dr. Shaun Murphy, a young surgeon with autism and savant syndrome, who relocates from a quiet country life to join a prestigious hospital’s surgical unit. Shaun uses his extraordinary medical gifts to save lives and challenge the skepticism of his colleagues. The series also stars  Nicholas Gonzalez (“How to Get Away with  Murder”), Antonia Thomas (“Lovesick”), Chuku Modu (“Game of Thrones”), Beau Garrett (“Girlfriend’s Guide to Divorce), Tamlyn Tomiat (“Teen Wolf”), Hill Harper (“Homeland”) and Richard Schiff (“Ballers”).

The set includes five discs with all 18 episodes, along with deleted scenes, a gag reel and two behind-the-scenes featurettes.

Restored ‘Maborosi’ and ‘Rocco and His Brothers’ Due July 10 From Milestone

Two newly restored, acclaimed foreign films will come out July 10 from Milestone Film and Video.

Maborosi, the first feature film from the director of this year’s Palme d’Or winner Shoplifters, Hirokazu Kore-eda, is available on Blu-ray ($39.95) and DVD ($34.95). In the film, Yumiko is a happy young wife and mother who is haunted by the childhood memory of watching her grandmother walk away from the family home, never to be seen again. When her husband dies through a mysterious suicide, Yumiko struggles to care for her toddler son. Years later, mother and son travel to the home of her new husband, Tamio, and his daughter — a remote village on the Sea of Japan — where Yumiko tries to come to terms with both deaths. Tamio tells his distraught wife about the maboroshi no hikari — phantom lights that can lure fishermen to their deaths. With time, Yumiko finds love, understanding and peace with her new family.

Bonus features include a new HD master authorized by the director; commentary by Linda Ehrlich, independent film scholar and Associate Professor Emerita from Case Western Reserve University; “Birthplace,” a video doc with lead actress Makiko Esumi; and improved English subtitles by Linda Hoaglund with Judith Aley and assistance from Ehrlich.

Rocco and His Brothers (1960), a film from director Luchino Visconti that influenced Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese, is due on Blu-ray ($39.95) and DVD ($34.95). The restoration by the Cineteca di Bologna at L’Immagine Ritrovata laboratory is a Martin Scorsese and Milestone Films presentation. In this work of Italian neorealism, joining the exodus of millions from Italy’s impoverished south, the formidable matriarch of the Parondi clan and her five children emerge from Milan’s looming Stazione Centrale in search of a better life in the industrial north. But, as they inch up the social ladder, family bonds are shredded.

Bonus features include a new 4K restoration by the Film Foundation and Cineteca di Bologna; a video introduction by Scorsese with a before-and-after restoration featurette; an exclusive video interview with Caterina d’Amico, daughter of screenwriter Suso Cecchi d’Amico (RoccoThe LeopardBicycle Thieves); d’Amico’s video interviews with cast and crew; and original production outtakes.

FilmRise Acquires Exclusive U.S. SVOD Rights to ‘CHiPs’

FilmRise has acquired from Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution the exclusive U.S. SVOD rights to the 1970s TV show “CHiPs,” starring Erik Estrada and Larry Wilcox, according to the company.

The show is available on Prime Video, through FilmRise’s Prime Video Direct self-service program.

“We are thrilled to have concluded a deal with Warner Bros. to bring this classic television favorite to Amazon’s Prime Video audience,” said FilmRise CEO and co-founder Danny Fisher in a statement. “The show is a perfect fit for the Prime Video service, which boasts an ever-expanding catalog of classic film and TV.”

“CHiPs” ran for more than six seasons on NBC. It followed California Highway Patrol motorcycle officers Jon (Wilcox) and Ponch (Estrada) as they patroled the streets of Los Angeles.

FilmRise has also brought other classic TV shows to the Prime platform, including “Hell’s Kitchen” and “3rd Rock from the Sun.”

Italian Oscar Entry ‘A Ciambra’ Due on Disc July 10 from IFC

Executive produced by Martin Scorsese, A Ciambra, Italy’s entry for the 2018 Academy Awards, will come out on DVD and Blu-ray Disc July 10 from IFC Entertainment.

The second feature from director Jonas Carpignano (Mediterranea), the Cannes Film Festival award winner follows 14-year-old Pio (Pio Amato) who wants nothing more than the respect of his older brother, whom he emulates in every way — including his career as a petty criminal. When both his father and brother are arrested, Pio is determined to prove he can step up and be the head of his sprawling Romani family.

Both the Blu-ray and DVD include the making-of documentary “A Ciambra: The Other Side of the Story” and deleted scenes.

‘Breaking In’ Due in Unrated Director’s Cut on Digital July 24, Disc Aug. 7 From Universal

The action thriller Breaking In will arrive as an unrated director’s cut on digital (including Movies Anywhere) July 24 and on Blu-ray combo pack, DVD and On Demand Aug. 7 from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.

In the film, a mother (Gabrielle Union), locked out of the house by a group of ruthless intruders, must summon every bit of her strength and smarts to save her children who are trapped inside. Directed by James McTeigue, the film also stars Billy Burke, Ajiona Alexus (“13 Reasons Why,” Acrimony) and Seth Carr (Black Panther).

The film earned $42.4 million at the domestic box office.

Bonus features include:

  • An alternate opening at the gas station with commentary by director McTeigue and scriptwriter Ryan Engle;
  • “One Bad Mother”;
  • “A Filmmaker’s Eye,” in which the crew explores director McTeigue’s vision and style;
  • “A Lesson in Kicking Ass,” a behind-the-scenes look at how physically demanding the role of Shaun was for Union;
  • “A Hero Evolved,” an account of how leading roles are shifting to embrace the qualities that more diverse actors can bring to the table;
  • Deleted and extended scenes; and
  • Feature commentary by McTeigue and Engle.