Thursday, November 22, 2012

Seven Stars on Nightmare Directors, Brutal Auditions & Fights With Paparazzi

(By Matthew Belloni & Stephen Galloway, The Hollywood Reporter, 30 November 2012)
Before shooting to stardom in 2001's Mulholland Drive, Naomi Watts toiled for a decade as a barely employed actress. Helen Hunt initially was told she was "too on-a-sitcom" to play the female lead in 1997's As Good as It Gets, the role that won her an Oscar. Perseverance emerged as a theme of The Hollywood Reporter 's Actress Roundtable, held Oct. 22 at Siren Studios in Hollywood. Awards contenders Watts, 44 (The Impossible); Hunt, 49 (The Sessions); Anne Hathaway, 30 (Les Miserables); Amy Adams, 38 (The Master, Trouble With the Curve); Rachel Weisz, 42 (The Deep Blue Sea); Marion Cotillard, 37 (Rust and Bone); and Sally Field, 66 (Lincoln) sat down for a frank discussion about their biggest fears, their worst auditions, the roles they fought for and the secrets to surviving in Hollywood.

The Hollywood Reporter: What makes you afraid as an actress?

Anne Hathaway: You start with an easy one!

Naomi Watts: I'm not happy unless I've got a little bit of fear going. I'm always trying to pull out. I'm always calling the director and saying, "I don't know if I can do it." With Mulholland Drive, I was completely terrified working with David Lynch. I was going on years and years of auditions and being told I was too this, too that, not enough of this, not enough of that, to the point where I was so afraid and diluting myself into absolutely nothing -- and then he just looked me in the eye and saw something. He just spoke to me and unveiled all those locked masks.

THR: Do you still have those masks?

Watts: Yeah, I keep them in reserve. (Laughter.)

Amy Adams: I was 30 when I got Junebug, so I had the same thing. Whoever was getting the job, I tried to figure out what they did and do the same thing. I remember hearing about Naomi's experience. That gave me a lot of faith in times where I was going to quit.

THR: How close did you get to quitting acting?

Adams: Pretty close. Not quitting in the sense that I wasn't going to be an actress, but maybe move to New York, move back to a smaller market. I just wasn't happy. If I wasn't going to be happy, then it wasn't worth it.

THR: Are you happy now?

Adams: Yeah. (Laughter.)

Rachel Weisz: Fear is like the steam that fires the combustion engine. You need fear to get a performance going.

THR: In real life, as opposed to acting, what makes you afraid?

Weisz: What is real life?

Sally Field: The freeway! It's terrifying. (Laughter.)

THR: Denzel Washington said something interesting at the Actor Roundtable. He said, "You attract what you fear." Do you agree?

Anne Hathaway: That would explain some relationships! (Laughter.) Actually, Rachel, I have a question for you. Is it true you have a tattoo on your hip of a ladder because of the theater piece that you did?

Weisz: Um, yeah. I started out very avant-garde [at Cambridge] -- I've sold out very steadily since then! It was more like performance art. It was me and another girl, and we were at university together. We had this stepladder, and we used to basically hurl each other off this ladder, and often we would bleed. We were 18 years old, and we just thought that was really cool and radical. I'm joking about it, but it's something I'm extremely proud of, and I had a ladder tattooed on my hip to commemorate this theater company -- which isn't, like, a ladder to my nether regions. It's the avant-garde theater troupe.

THR: Anne, in Les Miserables you're playing a part your mother played onstage. Did that make you afraid?

Hathaway: Yeah. My mom was in the first national tour, and she understudied the character [Fantine] whom I wound up playing. It made me nervous to tell her that I was auditioning for it, just because I knew how much it would mean to her, and I was worried that if I didn't get it, she would be disappointed, and if I did get it, it would be weird. And she was so cool about it. We talked about the character. And when I got the part, no one was happier for me.

THR: Was there a piece of advice you took from her in preparing for the role?

Hathaway: She gave me an image. My mom and I were talking about the idea that Fantine has lit a match, and she's just watching it burn down. And she needs to blow it out and let in the darkness. It was amazing to have that conversation not with an acting teacher, not with a director, but with your mother. I'm the only one here who's not a mother. I hope to join the ranks soon.

THR: Helen, were you nervous about the nudity in The Sessions?

Helen Hunt: Sure. But you read something beautiful rarely.

Field: It's also -- Helen, I realized we're, um, the only ones sort of a certain age, or my age is more certain than yours. It gets harder and harder, girls.

Hunt: My desire to be in something beautiful was bigger than my nerves. I met this woman whom I play [Cheryl Cohen Greene], and she's in her 60s, cancer survivor, grandmother, still a working sex surrogate who is as enthusiastic about her granddaughter as she is about the orgasm that the man who maybe was never going to have one is going to have. I heard all of that and thought: "Prostitutes. Let's not dress it up." But then you meet her, and you really hear what she does. It's really something, you know?

THR: Marion, is there a role you've played that changed your life?

Marion Cotillard: After La Vie en Rose, I started to feel the need to clean up some relationships, which was really weird. Suddenly, I needed to start fresh. Sometimes you go deep inside yourself, and I think it opens things inside of you. I don't know if you can really identify what it is, but you just need to heal. Did I answer the question? (Laughter.)

THR: How has fame changed your life?

Adams: I am going to get in an altercation with the paparazzi. It's going to happen. They keep focusing on my child. You guys are mothers. How do you handle it? Because I need to calm down. I have a really bad temper. I need to learn how to control myself.

Hathaway: I'm thinking about that because I really want to have a baby, and my husband and I are like, "Where are we gonna live?"

Cotillard: Come to France! We have laws!

Field: It's just such a different world. I've been here for 50 years, in the business. They had fan magazines, and they would set up young stars on these dates with people you didn't know, you didn't like. Recently, I was going through stuff, and I got horrified. I was doing this at 17, 18, 19, 20.

THR: Can you say no to press? Mila Kunis said recently that a studio chief had told her she had to pose for a men's magazine if she wanted to work for the studio.

Hathaway: At The Princess Diaries 2 premiere, they wanted me to arrive in a carriage, and I said no.

Field: I was doing a series called The Flying Nun [1967-70]. I didn't want to do [the show] more than life itself; I was so massively depressed, I weighed 40,000 pounds. Then they asked me to appear at the Golden Globes. "We want you to fly across the Cocoanut Grove, and we want you to present an award." I did not have the guts to say, "Are you out of your God darn mind?" So I said, "I won't wear the nun outfit." Now I find myself flying across the Cocoanut Grove into John Wayne's arms at about 400 miles per hour, wearing pink taffeta. It made no sense whatsoever. I wasn't even the flying nun. Now I was little porky Sally Field in a pink taffeta outfit flying across the Cocoanut Grove. (Laughter.)

Weisz: But you stood your ground.

THR: Have you ever really fought for a role?

Weisz: I fought for The Constant Gardener. I hounded the director. I called him a lot, and I wrote him a lot of letters. They were quite bold, basically telling him why I thought I was right to play the part. That's very un-British. But I dropped my British-ness and at the end of the day [director Fernando Meirelles] said that tenacity was right for the character.

Hunt: I've had to fight for every part -- certainly As Good as It Gets. I was too young, too blond, too on-a-sitcom, too utterly uninteresting for this part. I had spent many, many years where the director would want me but the studio wouldn't. In this case, I had the reverse. I was suddenly on a big TV show [Mad About You] and I had been in a huge blockbuster [Twister]. The studio was saying, "Read her," but he [director James L. Brooks] didn't want to see me. My experience of acting is not this kind of lightning-in-a-bottle thing. It's like elbow grease: work with someone, work with yourself, find the shoes. You said, "What scares you?" What I thought of is the feeling of being bad. There's no feeling like acting when you know it's bad.

Hathaway: I always think I'm terrible. So it's always a relief when I find out that I wasn't. I've had roles where I realized that I was in way over my head -- and that is my biggest fear. My biggest fear is overreaching. I have been in situations where I felt swamped, and it's turned out really well; and I've had other situations where I've had to walk off the film after five minutes because I realized I was in way over my head.

THR: You've done that?

Hathaway: Yeah. I've had a couple of films that I just can't watch. The experience that I'm thinking of -- and I will not say which one -- I tried to get out of it because I just knew from a technical standpoint I wasn't going to have enough time to prep and I just talked myself into it. It was just too good of an opportunity to pass up and I thought, "I can get there, I can do this." And when you don't feel that you got there, it's always going to just gnaw at you.

THR: Anne, how was your experience hosting the Oscars?

Hathaway: Oh, scars.

Hunt: You were great!

Hathaway: Thanks. I went into it with a lot of trust and a lot of hope, and I had a blast doing it. And I realized afterwards, I played to the house; it's a 3,500-seat theater, so I was just shooting energy to the back of it and it was like a party! It was great! And I think it looked slightly manic and "hyper-cheerleadery" onscreen. But I have no regrets about doing it.

THR: Did you watch a tape of the show?

Hathaway: Oh God, no! Whether or not it was an actual failure, it was perceived as a massive failure. [To Amy] By this wonderful media that buys pictures of your daughter! I've stopped talking to the paparazzi because there's no point.

Hunt: When Hillary Clinton was running for president, they were asking Obama about foreign policy and they were asking her, "How do you stay healthy on the road?"

Weisz: Going on with your Hillary Clinton thing, when you do actor roundtables, does age come up as an issue?

Field: Would you ask them about nudity?

THR: We've never asked about nudity. But we ask the same questions of the men, except: Do you think Hollywood is tougher for women?

Adams: I think women's concerns are different. Our priorities sometimes are different. And there is a reality: You're told constantly that you have a "shelf life," and I don't know that men are told that by the media, by other actors and other actresses, you're just told that.

Field: I'm almost 66 and I have a lot of awards, but I fought like holy hell to get Lincoln. Steven [Spielberg] had asked me to do it a long time ago, like in 2005. By the time it was going to be made, the original person [Liam Neeson] had dropped out and Daniel Day-Lewis came on board, and from the time that he first asked me, a little voice inside me said, "You'll never do it, Field. You'll never do it." And I have a problem with that little voice, because that little voice sometimes becomes my self-fulfilling prophecy. A lot of my life and career has been about huge compromise, about selling out. I had no choice: I had children to raise, there are my priorities. And I also know that I'm 10 years older than Daniel and 20 older than Mary Todd Lincoln, and I thought, "This is going to be a problem." And Steven said, "Yes, I don't see you with Daniel. Sorry." But I said, "Steven, test me! I'm not walking away!" And Daniel out of the graciousness of his heart flew in from Ireland and we did some bizarre improv; but I became Mary and he became Mr. Lincoln for about an hour! When I got home the phone was ringing, and Steven and Daniel were on the phone saying, "Will you be Mary?" (Applause.)

Weisz: It's interesting: I often get told, "Don't go and read." And last year I read the prequel to The Wizard of Oz, and this one character is really evil, the Wicked Witch of the East, and I thought, "I really love this role," and no one wanted me and [director] Sam Raimi didn't want me and I said, "I want to go and audition. That's my job. I'm an actor." It was one meeting, we sat and talked for a couple of hours, and he asked me a lot of interesting questions about my parents and my childhood. And the casting director read them with me and Sam kind of operated the camera.

Hathaway: Do you feel more confident if you've auditioned and gotten a role going into it?

Adams: Yes.

Hathaway: I do too.

Hunt: Well, otherwise the first day of shooting is the audition.

Watts: Oh, it's horrible! I have such bad memories of auditioning that I just get clammy. I mean, I did 10 years of driving around Los Angeles just to get two bits of paper to go and line up for two hours the next day -- they couldn't even fax you those pages. I have such haunting memories of auditioning and have literally been in a room where a director has been sleeping -- a very fancy director.

THR: Feel free to say who --

Watts: No, no, I won't. Although it's --

Hathaway: Tempting?

Watts: I'm partly English and partly Australian, and I'm not good when I have to prove myself. I'm really not.

Weisz: I'm sure you can do anything! You went from there to here.

Watts: Well, I can't apparently do comedy.

Cotillard: I fought for a project and I fought for the director and then I spent two months in the middle of the desert wanting to kill him and wanting to beat myself because I fought for him and he was so bad. He had no idea what we were doing, he had no idea what he wanted to do. I wanted to choke everybody in the desert. Then I realized that if I don't trust the director, if I don't like him, I'm going to be bad. I got my French version of the Razzie nomination [for worst performance] and I really wanted to have it! I didn't want to be mean, but I had my acceptance speech: "Without this director, none of this would have been possible!"

THR: Is there any one role that you would love to play?

Hathaway: I want to play Catherine the Great. I'm reading a biography on her life right now, and it's such a great story. It involves sex and the denial of sex, and she was so brilliant and there's just so much vastness. I'd love a crack at it.

Hunt: I have this Lady Macbeth fantasy.

Field: We were in a Shakespeare class together!

Hunt: We were!

Watts: I would just like to do a comedy at some point before I die.

Field: You know what? Honestly, truly, it really is hard even in literature to find older women, because if there is an older woman in a great piece of literature, usually she's very much in the background.

Cotillard: I would like to play a monster, like Gollum or something totally that you have to create almost everything.

Weisz: I tried for years to develop a true story about this woman named Julia Butterfly Hill, an activist who lived up a Redwood tree in Sonoma County for two years and four days, on a platform. She was trying to stop the trees from being knocked down. I spent a lot of time with her and I visited the tree, and I found it really moving. And it was an impossible movie to get made. It was hard enough to make a female-driven drama, but they were like, "She's just up a tree!"

Adams: I would really love to produce stuff for other actresses. Everyone talks about producing stuff for yourself, but I'd actually love to do it for other actresses.

Hathaway: [To Field] You don't know this, but I tried to write a movie for you, about a spy. And I thought Sally would be amazing, because who would ever think she was a spy? I think women are starting to take more care of each other. I feel like we're moving into a place in the world where we're going to be able to apply it. At least that's my hope.

Weisz: Maybe we can do the female version of The Hangover -- all of us on a 24-hour bender.

Hunt: I'm ready to do that, even if we don't film it!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

How The Bond Franchise Almost Died

(By Stephen Galloway, Hollywood Reporter, 8 November 2012)

On April 19, 2010, James Bond effectively died. After almost a year and a half of trying to get a new 007 film made while its parent studio, MGM, was spiraling toward bankruptcy, producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson finally pulled the plug.  That's when the London-based half-siblings issued a statement: "Due to the continuing uncertainty surrounding the future of MGM and the failure to close a sale of the studio, we have suspended development of Bond 23 indefinitely. We do not know when development will resume."

Today, the 23rd James Bond film, Skyfall, has opened to record numbers at the European box office and is drawing rave reviews from critics. It earned $287 million in its first 10 days, boding well for the picture's Nov. 9 debut in the U.S. Its success will add significantly not only to the franchise's value (which some estimate as high as $1.2 billion), but also to that of MGM, which co-owns Bond with Broccoli and Wilson and is expected to launch an initial public offering in 2013.  That is great news for MGM and Sony, which jointly financed the roughly $210 million film (less than $200 million after tax breaks) and for Daniel Craig, 44, who earned $17 million for his third outing as Ian Fleming's spy.

All this seemed a distant dream, however, back in 2010.  "We were gutted," says Broccoli, who took over the series from her late father, Albert R. "Cubby" Broccoli. "But the physical studio, Pinewood, was on hold, and so were people all around the world, and we had no choice. It was a horrible thing to do, and we'd already been through all this before." She had vivid memories of the years Bond spent in the wilderness, between Timothy Dalton's final 007 venture, 1989's Licence to Kill, and Pierce Brosnan's first, 1995's GoldenEye: "We thought, 'Here we go again.' "

After MGM's collapse threatened to derail 007 for good, "Skyfall's" $17 million star Daniel Craig lined up director Sam Mendes and villain Javier Bardem -- over drinks — and delivered the biggest Bond yet.  Skyfall first really kicked into life in 2009, when American Beauty's Oscar-winning director, Sam Mendes, ran into Craig at a birthday party for their mutual friend Hugh Jackman in New York City.  "It was in the evening, and Sam turned up late," Craig recalls of the man who previously had directed him in 2002's Road to Perdition. "I hadn't seen him for a long time and he apologized for saying to Entertainment Weekly that I wouldn't be a good Bond! He was also complimentary about Casino Royale. And, very selfishly, I started picking his brains."

As their conversation escalated, Craig discussed how he wanted to restore a sense of humor to Bond, one that he had initially felt uncomfortable with and was mostly absent from 2006's Casino Royale and 2008's Quantum of Solace. The actor confided his desire for the new film to be very much a contemporary thriller. In turn, "Sam's ideas started coming out, and I'd had a few too many drinks and I completely overstepped the line and said, 'Why don't you do it?' And Sam said, 'Why not?' "

The next day, Craig sheepishly called Broccoli and Wilson to mention the conversation, and discovered they were thrilled. The producers had been wrestling with a treatment written by Peter Morgan (The Queen) and regular Bond scribes Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, but they were dissatisfied with the storyline and hadn't even approached a director. Martin Campbell, who'd already rebooted Bond twice -- with Casino Royale and GoldenEye -- had made it clear he wanted to move on to other challenges, while Marc Forster's Quantum had been met with widespread critical indifference, even though it earned $586 million around the world.  So, two weeks after the Craig call, Broccoli, 52, and Wilson, 69, flew to New York and had lunch with Mendes at Cookshop restaurant in Chelsea, close to his then-home.   "I was very honest about Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace and where I thought it might be possible to take this movie, in the most general of terms," Mendes recalls. "Michael did say at one point, 'Why would an auteur or somebody who has a career in serious pictures want to do a Bond movie?' I said, 'Bond is a serious movie.' And I stuck to that throughout."
He continues: "I wanted to know, would they consider killing M and bringing back Q and Moneypenny? And did they want -- as I did -- a more flamboyant, old-style villain, the sort that emerged in the Sean Connery movies? And the answer to all those things was yes. And that was in many ways our starting point for working out what the story would be."

From fall 2009 into 2010, Mendes, 47 -- whose last movie was the 2009 low-budget dramedy Away We Go -- refined the script with Purvis and Wade, and also persuaded nine-time Oscar-nominated cinematographer Roger Deakins (No Country for Old Men) to join the team.  Everything seemed headed toward a late 2010 start -- and then the continuing financial issues that had plagued MGM reached their nadir.  "They couldn't guarantee anything," Broccoli laments. "The company was going into bankruptcy, and they didn't know how it was going to emerge. But we needed to know we would have financing and distribution -- and there was no deal with Sony in place at the time." (Sony had distributed the previous two Bond films.)

Mendes admits he seriously considered pulling out. In London, following his split with wife Kate Winslet, he was developing an adaptation of Ian McEwan's 1960s-based drama On Chesil Beach but had problems casting it. Other offers came his way -- he even had brief talks about helming The Hunger Games -- and yet he resisted.  "I was tempted to go," he acknowledges. "I said to Barbara, 'Can you give me some assurance this is going to happen?' She said, 'To be honest, I can't.' But I had a feeling it would be sorted out, so I took the risk of turning down other work and just waiting." Later, Mendes says he came to regard the forced break as a gift: "While we sat around waiting, we quietly carried on with the script, and as a consequence we ended up with a much better draft."

The director then took the Purvis and Wade draft to longtime friend and screenwriter John Logan (The Aviator). "He and I spent about six weeks together just talking," Mendes says. "He came to me in London, and even joined me when I went to visit my kids in Paris [where Winslet was shooting Carnage]. He wanted answers to every single question: what the shape of the film would be, what we would retain, what we would abandon."  Logan praises the script he received as a "great machine" and saw his job "not so much about cataloguing changes as bringing a certain sensibility to the material" -- helped by his familiarity with Fleming's novels. "I'm a great fan of the books and coincidentally had listened to all of them," he notes. (He reportedly has since been hired to work on scripts for Bond 24 and Bond 25, which may, for the first time, carry a story across two movies.)

The writer and director discussed favorite films that might color various sequences, including Charles Laughton's haunting 1955 drama The Night of the Hunter. "Sam and I talked a lot about why a Bond movie is a Bond movie and not a Bourne or a John le Carre," Logan says. "It has to do with that intense seriousness and a pain that hurts and also this sense of panache and elegance."  Before the Skyfall machinery could fully be engaged, MGM's financial uncertainty had to be resolved. Broccoli and Wilson shuttled endlessly across the Atlantic.  "We had different meetings with everyone from [MGM CEO] Harry Sloan [before he was pushed out in August 2009] to Stephen Cooper, who was brought in [as MGM vice chairman] by all the equity guys to reorganize the company. We had meetings in Los Angeles, in New York, all over the place. We were meeting a lot of people, because it was a revolving door, and to try and get a handle on the situation was chaotic. It didn't look like it was going to be resolved for some time and we didn't want to be a pawn in all this. The whole situation looked very opaque."

Saddled with debt, MGM desperately sought a buyer but failed to find one willing to meet its $2 billion minimum asking price. Without that, the studio simply didn't have the cash to fund Bond.  Broccoli, Wilson and their Los Angeles-based colleague David Pope arranged a transatlantic telephone call on April 7, 2010, to discuss whether they could realistically go ahead, bearing in mind that Mendes' option had to be exercised by May 31 or they would lose him.  "Between April 7 and April 15, we had discussions with both Sony and Warners [potential MGM buyers] and realized nothing was going to happen with MGM before the summer," says Pope, a co-producer on Skyfall and CEO of Danjaq Llc., which controls many of the rights to Bond. "We were trying to work out, would MGM be stable enough for us to engage [Mendes]? It became clear that things would be up in the air for a while."

On April 17, Broccoli, Wilson and Pope had one final conversation on the subject in which "we made the decision to postpone the film -- and on April 19 we announced the delay," says Pope.  "You feel devastated," notes Wilson. "A lot of people had come to us and said, 'Should we take this other thing?' And people would hang back and not commit to those things -- and that's a terrible thing to do. At a certain point, we just had to cut the cord."  Broccoli adds: "We had suffered through a six-year hiatus and were looking at the possibility of the same thing again. We had the 747 loaded up and ready to go down the runway, and we were being told MGM was going into bankruptcy. It was a very perilous situation."

When the studio emerged from bankruptcy at the very end of 2010, however, everything changed. Its new owners brought in former Spyglass chiefs Gary Barber and Roger Birnbaum as co-chairmen (Birnbaum has since departed) and, more important, they obtained a $500 million revolving credit line through JP Morgan and Deutsche Bank.  Sony Pictures Entertainment co-chair Amy Pascal was keen to move ahead, and agreed to a complex deal through which Sony funded the film with MGM, also taking a stake in Bond 24, while MGM co-financed The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

The film that had variously been known as Silver Bullet, A Killing Moon and Once Upon a Spy -- as well as Bond 23 -- finally was a go.  Now the production team began to lock in the elements -- not least signing Javier Bardem to play Raoul Silva, a flamboyant and probably gay former agent whose mission is to destroy M (Judi Dench).  Mendes disputes reports that he talked to Anthony Hopkins and Kevin Spacey about joining the cast, and Bardem confirms he started conversations after being collared by Craig -- like Mendes. "I was at a fund-raiser for Haiti at [Crash director and Casino Royale writer] Paul Haggis' house," Bardem explains, "and Daniel approached me. Of course, he excused himself for bringing business into the conversation, but he asked, 'Would you be interested in doing a Bond movie?' And I said yes. Daniel is the soul of the whole thing."

The Spanish actor immersed himself in his role, having the screenplay translated into his native tongue. "I usually do that, because there is something organic to the words, and when you are speaking a language that is not your mother tongue, words can be misunderstood," he observes. "You need to have the emotional knowledge."  Even before that translation, "The first time I read the script, I knew there was something very powerful," he says. "And then I spoke to Sam, and he told me the key word for the character was uncomfortable. This was not about creating fear or menace; it was about creating an uncomfortable situation for the others."

While Bardem experimented with different looks, eventually dyeing his hair blond for the role, the production team searched for the sort of exotic locations that have long been critical to the Bond brand. At first, the film was meant to open in Mumbai, with a long chase that has Bond racing through a densely populated market, jumping on a motorbike and eventually fighting an opponent on top of a train as it hurtles into the countryside.  But Mendes' hopes of filming in Mumbai were dashed when he discovered the sheer impracticality of an Indian shoot. "It is logistically incredibly difficult to shut down the center of an enormous Indian city," he says. "We tried to make it work and to embrace the chaos, but in the end there were too many dangers -- I don't mean from people trying to sabotage production, but there are narrow streets [that are difficult to film in]. I was very disappointed."

Exploratory trips to Cape Town and Johannesburg proved equally fruitless. And then, for the first time in his life, Mendes visited Istanbul. "I found it was everything we wanted and more, and gave us so many ideas," he says. "Suddenly you are walking through the Grand Bazaar and someone says, 'You can go up on the roof,' and then you find a way of factoring that into the story," with Bond's pursuit leading him over the rooftops of the city.  Budget limitations restricted plans for filming in Shanghai and Macao to just four nights in the former; an ultra-modern stadium at England's famed Ascot racecourse stood in for Shanghai's Pudong International Airport.

Shooting began Nov. 7, 2011, in London, with a simple scene in which Bond drives into a subway tunnel, and the crew -- numbering about 400 at its peak -- subsequently moved to the "Bond stage," the vast space at Pinewood Studios just west of London, where they would work for almost a year. There, they filmed one of the most challenging sequences ever shot for a Bond feature, where a subway train crashes through a roof and into an underground hideout.  "That was real, not CGI," Mendes observes. "The head of special effects, Chris Corbould, constructed a track high above the set that was pointed down so that the train came crashing through the roof. We built two carriages and crashed them through the ceiling, and shot it with 11 cameras. We had to evacuate the stage to shoot, and when it came crashing through, it dismantled most of the 007 stage."  "It was a one-shot deal," he adds. "If it hadn't worked out, it would have been two million quid [roughly $3 million] to reshoot. That was pretty nerve-racking."

So was the opening sequence, which has Craig (strapped to a safety wire in reality) chasing that opponent on top of a moving train. It ended up being just about the last thing filmed and eventually involved three separate Turkish cities -- Istanbul, Fethiye and Adana -- where it was shot over 53 days.  "You are literally only getting one setup every four or five hours and having to work around the local train timetable, and it was 110 degrees," Mendes notes. "That's where Daniel's real heroism came in: He was on top of the train in a suit, attached by a wire." With all the takes, he needed "something like 30 different versions of the same gray suit" in different states of disrepair, Mendes laughs. "And these were very fine suits!"
British actress Naomie Harris, who plays one of the two Bond girls -- she was hired on the recommendation of director Danny Boyle, who had worked with her on 28 Days Later, and she likely will have a recurring role in future films -- remembers feeling guilty when she messed up a shot. "I was shooting and I left my safety catch on the gun, and everyone said, 'Fire!' -- and there was nothing. That was a massive wait, and I felt awful." 

Throughout the 127-day shoot, which wrapped May 25, Mendes insisted on live action rather than CGI wherever possible. Indeed, there are only 500-some-odd CGI shots in the 143-minute movie (including one where MI6's London headquarters is blown up), compared to more than 2,200 effects shots in The Avengers. This meant Craig had to perform many of the stunts in difficult situations. And yet the only injury he suffered came during rehearsals, forcing two weeks of the film to be rescheduled while he healed.  "I tore a muscle in my calf doing something completely innocuous," he remembers. "I was trying to kick a stunt man, and stepped back on my foot. I heard it go snap and thought, 'Who the f-- did that!' "  The pain, both real and metaphysical, has paid off.

"Dramatically gripping while still brandishing a droll undercurrent of humor, this beautifully made film certainly will be embraced as one of the best Bonds," wrote THR's chief movie critic, Todd McCarthy, adding that it "leaves you wanting the next one to turn up sooner than four years from now."  If MGM has its way, it will. Bond's return to the screen has been crucial to the studio, whose anticipated IPO features the Bond franchise and Peter Jackson's upcoming The Hobbit trilogy as its two prized possessions, along with a library of 4,000 titles.  Analysts are reluctant to place a value on Bond, whose ticket sales to date have reached almost $5 billion -- not to mention billions more in DVD and ancillary sales -- but the combined promise of Skyfall and The Hobbit have increased MGM's value.

On Oct. 22, THR revealed that MGM Holdings had decided to delay the IPO, which insiders believe will take place in 2013 rather than before Skyfall's opening, as originally planned. That's largely based on the studio's confidence in Skyfall and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, which opens Dec. 14.  "[Skyfall's success] would be incrementally positive to any proposed stock offering," says Piper Jaffray analyst James Marsh. "First, it likely increases estimates. It also likely raises the short-term growth rate, improves predictability of future cash flow. It was debatable if this franchise was getting a little long in the tooth; outperformance like this suggests it has a longer life."

If it does, MGM can thank Broccoli and Wilson, who have devoted most of their own lives to Fleming's creation. They recently signed Craig for at least two and possibly three more movies and hope to have the next Bond ready a couple of years from now. "It's been a great partnership," Broccoli says of Craig. "You couldn't ask for a better leading man."  Still, after four years on Skyfall, she admits she is too exhausted to think far ahead. "We only finished the film last Wednesday," she said on Thursday, Oct. 18, as she raced from one press conference to another. "We warned Sam how tired he'd be, but he didn't quite believe it. Right now we just want to enjoy the moment."


BOND AT THE BOX OFFICE: Adjusted for inflation, a look at the actual best and worst of the world's most famous spy franchise.


 •Thunderball (1965): $993.2 million ($141.2 million in '65 dollars)

 •Goldfinger (1964): $893.5 million ($124.9 million)

 •Live and Let Die (1973): $807.7 million ($161.8 million)


 •Never Say Never Again (1983): $355.6 million ($160 million)

 •A View to a Kill (1985): $313.8 million ($152.6 million)

 •Licence to Kill (1989): $278.9 million ($156.2 million)

Source: Box Office Magazine worldwide grosses

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Democratic National Convention Airbrushes Auto Bailout

Granholm Speech At Democratic National Convention Airbrushes Auto Bailout
(Huffington Post, 6 September 2012)

Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm delivered a rousing defense of the auto industry bailout Thursday night, totaling up the number of well-paying jobs that were saved by the controversial decision. President Barack Obama, in the spring of 2009, approved an $85 billion package that is widely credited with bringing about a subsequent turnaround.  Obama has been hammered for the decision, so he deserves credit for it now that it's gone well.  But Granholm left out a significant element of the story. During the time between Obama's election and inauguration, he worked closely with President George W. Bush to save the industry.

In 2008, Bush announced $17.4 billion in loans to the automakers. Had he not done so, it's unlikely the industry would have made it to Jan. 20th.  "There's too great a risk that bankruptcy now would lead to a disorderly liquidation of American auto companies," Bush said at the time, justifying the bailout.  Giving Bush credit wouldn't have taken away from Obama's accomplishment, and even makes Romney's rejection of the intervention look that much more out of step. But that's not the story Granholm told.  "The entire auto industry, and the lives of over one million hard-working Americans, teetered on the edge of collapse; and with it, the whole manufacturing sector," Granholm said. "We looked everywhere for help. Almost nobody had the guts to help us -– not the banks, not the private investors and not Bain capital. Then, in 2009, the cavalry arrived: our new president, Barack Obama."

Romney's own stance on the bailout will likely hurt him in Midwestern states. Suggesting the troubled automakers go into bankruptcy without government intervention, Romney wrote an op-ed for The New York Times under the headline "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt."  Democrats have assailed Romney for that position throughout the convention, with speakers like United Auto Workers President Bob King, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and Granholm herself reminding viewers that Romney opposed the bailout. Like Granholm, King also made a point of reciting the "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt" line.

None of those Democratic speakers, however, mentioned that the auto rescue in fact began under Bush.

Obama's DNC Speech Exaggerates Auto Bailout Benefits

(By Nate C. Hindman, The Huffington Post, 10 September 2012)

In his formal acceptance of the Democratic presidential nomination last night, President Barack Obama celebrated his administration’s efforts to get the U.S. auto industry “back on top of the world," echoing remarks he made in a campaign stop earlier this month.  “The American auto industry has come roaring back,” Obama said then, nearly five years after the onset of an economic downturn that threatened to sink the nation’s largest carmakers.  But there’s one small problem with those assertions. The federal government's $80 billion bailout of General Motors and Chrysler, started under President George W. Bush and continued under Obama, hasn’t returned the sector to the top of the world. And that supposed roaring has fallen on deaf ears among taxpayers who are still owed billions by the car companies and autoworkers who are still out of a job.

GM, the country's largest carmaker and the recipient of $50 billion in government funds, has slipped to No. 2 and is headed for third place in global sales this year, behind Toyota and Volkswagen. And despite last year being the most profitable year in GM’s 103-year history, the automaker still owes taxpayers a whopping $25 billion. Chrysler, for its part, has repaid most of its federal loans.  Employment in the auto industry remains 12 percent below what it was before the recession started in December 2007, the Washington Post recently noted. In contrast, overall private employment is only four percent below what it was before the recession began.

To be sure, U.S. auto jobs and sales have seen a resurgence, and economists agree that a bailout was vital to keep the industry afloat. “Without financial help from the federal government, all three vehicle producers and many of their suppliers might have had to liquidate many operations, with devastating effects on the broader economy,” economists Mark Zandi, of Moody’s Analytics, and Alan Blinder, of Princeton University, wrote in a report cited by Bloomberg.  A majority of Americans also view the federal bailout of the auto industry as helpful to the U.S. economy, according to polls by the Pew Research Center and Quinnipiac University.  But to tout the auto industry’s comeback alongside less controversial accomplishments, like the killing of Osama Bin Laden -- as Obama’s campaign has done with its “Bin Laden is dead and GM is alive” slogan -- may be a stretch.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Million Puppet March: Fighting For Public Broadcasting, With Felt And Fur

(By Maura Judkis, Washington Post, 3 November 2012)

It might have been the friendliest rally to ever come to the Mall — especially three days before the election. Puppets and toddlers danced. Grown-ups in furry costumes sang. A girl dressed as Cookie Monster handed out Chips Ahoy to passersby. There was even a puppet-themed wedding.  The Million Puppet March — a political rally against Mitt Romney’s debate remarks about Big Bird and cutting funding to public television — may not have actually been a million puppets strong, but furry monsters came from far and near in a post-Halloween parade of support for PBS on Saturday.

The march to the Capitol set off from Lincoln Park shortly after 11 a.m., with the participants singing the “Sesame Street” theme song, and the Muppets’ “Mahna Mahna.” They were asked to keep to the sidewalk, but the hundreds of marchers soon spilled into the street, requiring a police escort. They chanted:

“Power to the puppets! We can save the Muppets!”

“Whose street? Sesame Street!”

“What do we want? Cookies! When do we want them? Now!”

“EL-MO! We won’t go!”

“I am the way I am — I’m an artist — because of ‘Sesame Street’ and PBS,” said Michael Montgomery, who came up from Orlando with puppet Eddie. “To even think that that could go away is sad, and I want to raise my support for it in any way that I can.”  “I used to work for Sesame Street, and not only did it change my life as a kid, it changed my life as an adult,” said Michael Schupbach, who came in from New York City with his puppet Malcolm. “I can speak for the people who work there, everyone there knows how important their job is, they know they’re reaching 17 million kids every day.”  Malcolm described himself as a distant cousin of Oscar the Grouch. “We’re friends on Facebook,” the furry green puppet said. “I believe we’ve endorsed each other on LinkedIn.”  Schupbach also brought an “Oven Mitt Romney” puppet — a green oven mitt with stern-looking eyes. “It’s not a political rally, so he’s staying quiet.”  “More than you can say for the real one,” quipped Montgomery.

“We’ve been telling everybody: This isn’t a march, it’s a support group,” said Montgomery, or maybe his puppet, Eddie — both of their mouths were moving. “Look at this — it’s all the same weirdos.”  Nearby, Ronny Wasserstrom of Playdate Puppets in New York was showing off his papier-mache Humpty Dumpty marionette to a group of children.  “He never listens to me!” said Wasserstrom to a little boy dressed as Elmo. “You know who he listens to? Kids.”  The kids helped Wasserstrom help his Humpty Dumpty puppet balance an egg on the puppet’s head.  “Does that look balanced? As balanced as the budget,” he said. “How are we gonna help this budget out? How about we fire Big Bird? No.”  Of Humpty Dumpty, he said, “we’re putting him back together again, we’re hoping to put the country back together again. PBS is our past but we also want it to be our future. I think we support PBS not only as a leg up on the future, but an egg up on the future.”

’It’s been an intense political season’

The rally was founded by Michael Bellavia, a Los Angeles animation executive, and Chris Mecham, an Idaho student, who came up with the same idea separately, and joined forces after meeting online. The event was unaffiliated with PBS.  “I’ve never been political. I didn’t intend for this,” Mecham said. “I just feel passionately about this one thing. It’s taken on a life of its own.”  Democrats have been criticized for focusing on Romney’s remarks about Big Bird, saying it’s a distraction from more serious issues in the election. Mecham agrees — and he says that’s what the rally (which was supposed to be nonpartisan but skewed liberal) is all about.  “There are issues that are really are important, and public broadcasting shouldn’t be among them. It shouldn’t even be on the table. I can’t believe that anyone would even question value of it,” he said. It’s about “saying it shouldn’t be a partisan issue, so go pay attention to the things that are important. . . . Lighten up and have fun for a minute. It’s been an intense political season.”

As Mecham stood on the sidewalk of North Capitol Street, taking video of the marchers as they passed, he estimated a crowd of more than 600 people — way more than the 300 they had anticipated in their permit.  “I’m overwhelmed with joy, I’m so happy,” Mecham said. “Ooh look, Sweetums, my favorite!”  Mecham also hadn’t anticipated that his rally would become the setting for a wedding. Charlie Anderson and Lisa, who declined to give her last name, met on five years ago and came from North Kingstown, R.I., to get married in Lincoln Park before the rally. The groom dressed as Big Bird in a yellow tuxedo. The bride, in a green gown, dressed as Kermit.  “We’re not young. We were looking for something a little different. We heard about this, and my wife said, let’s get married there,” Anderson said. “She’s got this wonderful wacky side, that’s why I love her.”

Other fans and puppeteers, from Vermont’s professional Bread and Puppet Theater to amateur PBS enthusiasts with sock puppets, came from afar — even braving transportation obstacles caused by the hurricane. James Britt escaped Superstorm Sandy-drenched Long Island with his wife, Gwendolynn Massie, and kids, Antonette, 9, and Michael, 7.  “It’s an interesting freedom-of-speech lesson for them,” he said. The family carried professional-looking puppets that Britt said were created for a children’s show he tried to launch, called “Channel Z,” about an alien invasion. Michael’s puppet worked at SETI, the institute that researches extraterrestrial life, while Antonette’s character, Commander Pan, was a frozen space monkey. Britt and his wife operated Agent X and Agent Y, two “Men in Black”-style agents who had to investigate the alien invasion.  “We’re going to need a copy of this transcript,” Agent X said to this reporter, after she finished interviewing the family.  Dana Cook brought her daughter, Emma, from Wilmington, N.C., for the rally, along with their puppets: Frederick, a sheepdog, and a penguin named Lucy. “I just made that up,” said Emma, who agreed that her mom was probably the coolest ever for letting her miss school Friday to travel to D.C. to play with puppets.  “It’s the perfect protest to teach my daughter about protests,” said Dana, who is a fan of NPR. “There wouldn’t be angry people — there would be puppets.”

A love song to public broadcasting

When the march stopped in front of the Capitol, Mecham and Bellavia led the crowd in a pep rally for PBS and other public broadcasting, including NPR. They played original songs that had been sent to them by fans, including an electronic love song to “Fresh Air” host Terry Gross, by Casual Young Italians. Sample lyrics: “Terry, you’re a breath of ‘Fresh Air.’ ”  While Baltimore’s Beale Street Puppets put on a children’s show on the stage, other puppeteers took the chance to create a show to the tune of Beale Street’s music. A crowd gathered around Scott Land, who made his toddler-size Mitt Romney and Barack Obama marionettes dance.  Children were encouraged to come up to the stage to share their favorite “Sesame Street” characters with the crowd.  “My name is Marina and my favorite character is Animal, because he reminds me of myself,” said a girl, to cheers from the crowd. “And my mom has an addiction to ‘Masterpiece Theater.’ ”  Another girl spoke up for Animal. A shy boy said he liked Elmo. Then, a young boy named Lucian took the microphone.  Who is his favorite PBS character? “Yoda.”

Friday, November 2, 2012

Ben Olsen: Player’s Coach

Staff & Players Agree, Olsen The Right Man To Lead United
(D.C. United website, November 2, 2012)

As D.C. United’s players slowly trickled off the field following a late-October training session, the sun peeking through the clouds enough to create the illusion of warmth, Ben Olsen stuck around.  Olsen, United’s 35-year-old coach, stood at the near end of the pitch with assistant coach Chad Ashton and lined up soccer balls outside the area.  Wearing a United pullover and long black pants with white stripes lining the sides, Olsen gauged his competition: Bill Hamid, D.C.’s freakishly athletic goalkeeper.
“I’ve got two shots,” he said. “I’ve got the dipper and I’ve got the curler. Which one you want?”  Olsen’s voice strained and his teeth clenched as the word “want” left his mouth the instant his right foot struck the first ball.  “I’m like fire and ice, baby,” Olsen said, confidently referencing Blades of Glory.  As more quotes spewed from Olsen’s mouth with joyful ease, the duo of coaches peppered the 21-year-old ’keeper, who was doing all he could to not be scored on by his manager.  “That’s some hot, hot Tabasco.”

Another ball into the top corner of the net, not unlike the brilliant shot Olsen unleashed during his playing days to record a hat trick at RFK Stadium in June 2007 against New York.  “Ahhhhhhhhh, damnit.”  A near miss. He jumped in a circle.  Olsen hit a few more before walking toward the sideline, his head slightly bowed and his arms dangling at his sides.  The face of D.C. United’s rebirth has work to do.

Since taking over the most successful franchise in MLS history fulltime in November 2010, Olsen has steadily grown comfortable in the manager’s role, moving beyond the sting of a playing career cut short by a series of ankle injuries.  Whether from his youthful exuberance, his tactical expertise or his commitment to the organization – or likely a combination of all three – Olsen has led United to a place where the team hasn’t been since, well, when Olsen was running inside the white lines instead of along them – the playoffs.  Now on the verge of the club’s first postseason match since 2007, arguably Olsen’s finest season on the field with D.C., it’s becoming clear why General Manager Dave Kasper and President and CEO Kevin Payne committed to Olsen becoming the coach at such a young age.  “Everyone wants to be around Ben,” says Kasper. “He’s got this personality that’s self-deprecating. While he’s intense, he’s also light-hearted. You can have a laugh with him. The litmus test of a successful coach is players playing for you. They have to like you and want to work for you. They certainly do that for Ben.”

As a player, Olsen was feisty. Heck, even nasty at times, fueled by a relentless passion for competition and being better than the other guy. It has been a constant give-and-take for Olsen learning to balance those traits with those of many mild-mannered MLS coaches.  Ashton and Kasper have agreed Olsen’s calmed down a bit since shifting roles, but his passion hasn’t waned. Nor have the theatrics. Following each of D.C.’s final two goals against Columbus the night United clinched a playoff spot in front of the home supporters, Olsen let loose. After the equalizer by Marcelo Saragosa, he jumped into the arms of Ashton, who lifted Olsen up as they celebrated. On Lewis Neal’s game-winner in extra time, Olsen jumped on the metal bench, only to realize everyone else had stood up off the bench. He nearly toppled over.
“He made the transition from a player to a coach, so he gets it,” center back Brandon McDonald said of Olsen. “He’s a players’ coach, so for us going in, you can sit down and talk to him and he’ll be honest with you.”  He’ll school you, too. Even with ankles that have gone through multiple surgeries, every time Olsen slips on a pinnie and joins his players in a training session he displays flashes of what made him one of the best players to ever wear a black D.C. kit.  “I think a lot of guys want to kick him, to be honest with you,” said center back Dejan Jakovic said, who was a teammate of Olsen’s in 2009. “They don’t like when he comes in because he still has it. He’s a great player. He hasn’t lost much.”

In just under three seasons as coach, the learning curve has been kind to Olsen, whose scruffy beard seemingly possesses the ability to regenerate overnight. Entering his first full season at the helm in 2011, Olsen led United to a 9-13-12 record following the worst year in club history.  “He works at it,” Ashton said. “He spends a lot of hours thinking about the game, studying the game, and all of that’s starting to show up.”  As Olsen works, he carries around rolled up tubes of paper, or maybe a small, folded sheet that he’ll slowly tear apart, piece by piece. Something to keep himself moving, to keep his mind occupied before tackling the next task.

In leading his 2012 side to the playoffs, Olsen’s task wasn’t easy. In fact, it was compounded greatly when reigning MLS MVP Dwayne De Rosario was injured in September and ruled out for the remainder of the regular season.  Olsen immediately shifted the team’s personality, imploring the group to become more defensive-minded and work better as a unit. The result was astounding. Bolstered by successful substitutions and a commitment to defense, United finished the regular season 5-0-2 and grabbed the second seed in the Eastern Conference, a stark contrast to their 1-5-1 collapse to end 2011.

“That only happens if you get the backing of the guys,” said player/assistant coach Josh Wolff. “As a player, you want your coach to believe in you. You want your coach to make you feel you’re just as important as your star. It’s something that’s reflected in the fact of how we all react and respond when we do well.”  For all of Olsen’s success as a player – the 1993 National High School Player of the Year, the 1997 Soccer America Player of the Year at Virginia, two MLS Cup Titles, MLS Rookie of the Year, and award after award after award – he’s about as genuine as it gets. Kasper said he’s the type of guy who could run for Mayor of D.C. if he wanted.
Earlier this season, after Olsen was inducted into United’s Hall of Tradition, he was asked about the honor during the post-game press conference: “It’s always tough,” he said. “As a coach, individual awards don’t mean what they used to. As a player, that’s all I played for.”  Olsen smiled and waited for the laugh before he issued a mild-mannered, “just kidding.”  “You see a drive and a motivation to succeed because he’s been this organization for 15 years and now he carries a lot of responsibility in moving this organization forward,” Wolff said.

The Thursday before Olsen’s first playoff game as a coach, and many of his players’ first taste of the postseason as well, Olsen spoke about moving away from the past. About this group creating its own signature moments – the ones he and so many of those who are passionate about the organization look back upon with pride.  Even if Olsen’s comments were lost in the shuffle of the playoff hoopla, there were plenty of other voices that echoed his sentiment.  Just ask his players.  “That’s why Ben’s here,” Hamid said. “He brings that experience into the locker room and gives us that faith we need, that courage and desire to work hard in the game. If we do that, we will start writing our own history.”