Sunday, December 30, 2007

Worldwide Pants inks WGA deal

Letterman, Ferguson to return with scribes

BAGHDAD -- The WGA and David Letterman's Worldwide Pants have reached an agreement that will allow "Late Show with David Letterman" and "Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson" to return to the air next week with their writers.

Letterman-produced CBS shows will return Wednesday, the same day Jay Leno, Conan O'Brien and Jimmy Kimmel get back to work--without their writers.

Worldwide Pants CEO Rob Burnett said it wasn't tough to make a deal with the WGA. The pact was negotiated by Burnett, longtime Letterman attorneys Jim Jackoway and Alan Wertheimer and WGA leaders including WGA West prexy Patric Verrone and exec director David Young.

"I found the guild straightforward and easy to deal with," he told Daily Variety. "It was a big decision so it took an appropriate amount of time."

The WGA issued a statement Friday confirming the agreement, citing the deal as proof that its demands aren't unreasonable.

"This is a comprehensive agreement that addresses the issues important to writers, particularly new media," the Guild said. "Worldwide Pants has accepted the very same proposals that the Guild was prepared to present to the media conglomerates when they walked out of negotiations on December 7. Today's agreement dramatically illustrates that the Writers Guild wants to put people back to work, and that when a company comes to the table prepared to negotiate seriously a fair and reasonable deal can be reached quickly."

Of course, it helped that Worldwide Pants is a dramatically smaller company than any of the members of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers and doesn't have nearly as much at stake. Indeed, Letterman is uniquely situated as the 100% owner of his shows -- something even primetime's top players can't claim.

AMPTP discounted the signficance of the deal covering about three dozen scribes in the larger picture of the strike that has idled thousands of working WGA members.

"While it is good news for viewers that the jokes will be back on the late night shows, the biggest joke of all appears to be the one the WGA's organizers are pulling on working writers," the AMPTP said in a statement. "The people in charge at WGA have insisted on increasing their own power by prevailing on jurisdictional issues such as reality, animation and sympathy strikes. Yet today the WGA made an interim agreement to send writers back to work that by definition could not have achieved these jurisdictional goals -- gains that would at a minimum require the company making an agreement to actually produce reality and animation programming."

AMPTP also said that guild was "misrepresenting" Worldwide Pants' status as an AMPTP member, though the production banner's Worldwide Trousers Inc. corporate entity was included on the list of struck companies posted on the WGA West's website.

Moreover, a deal that allows CBS' latenight block to return also affords the guild a way to turn up the pressure on rival nets, particularly NBC. Peacock's profitable latenighters, "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" and "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" could be at a competitive advantage without writers, and if A-list SAG members don't have to cross picket lines to do Letterman and Ferguson's shows.

Worldwide Pants reached out to the WGA for an interim agreement shortly after the strike began on Nov. 5. The guild only recently engaged in talks with the company, after making the strategic decision to seek individual talks with AMPTP members. And even then, it had been thought that WWP wouldn't be able to cut a deal because CBS controls the new media rights to Letterman's shows. However, as the studio that produces the shows, WWP "is responsible for paying residuals to our writers" for Internet use of said shows, Burnett said.

Eye drew just such a distinction in a statement it issued Friday night.

"CBS controls the Internet exploitation rights for both programs, and will comply with any eventual negotiated agreement between the AMPTP and the WGA," it said.

Guild said that WWP agreed to the new media terms it was preparing to offer as a counter-proposal to the majors on Dec. 7, the day the most recent round of negotiations broke down. The specifics of the new media residual formulas that WWP agreed to were not immediately clear late Friday, nor was it clear whether the WWP included a "favored nations" clause that would allow the company to alter its contract should the WGA cut a contract deal at more favorable terms with the major studios.

WGA reps did not immediately respond to requests for more detailed info about the new media formula. In its previous counterproposal to the majors, the guild was understood to have proposed a residual for Internet streaming of full-length episodes that would be based on a percentage of the existing broadcast minimum, to be paid again after every 100,000 views of an episode. The AMPTP's most recent proposal, by contrast, offered a percentage-based residual for a year's worth of web streaming that worked out to about $250 for an hourlong episode.

It's understood that Worldwide Pants even agreed to the guild's points on jurisdiction for reality and animation production - which have been lightning rods in the guild's talks with studios. For Worldwide Pants, that's likely to be a negligible commitment given its lack of activity in the reality or animation genres to date.

Burnett said he would leave it to the WGA to discuss deal specifics.

"In the broad strokes, I will say that Worldwide Pants has always been a very writer-friendly company," Burnett said. "We had no problem agreeing to the demands the WGA has on the time."

WGA's decision to strike a deal with Letterman no doubt irked the hosts of the other latenight shows set to return to work in January, all of whom are also WGA members. However, unlike Letterman, hosts such as Leno, and Jon Stewart don't own their shows and therefore are at the mercy of the studios that do produce their skeins.

In a letter to members, WGA leaders recognized that the deal with Letterman meant that some latenight scribes would be returning to work next week, while others would remain on the picket lines. But it said the Letterman deal was a necessary part of the guild's broader bid to increase pressure on the majors by negotiating with individual companies.

"Companies who have a WGA deal and guild writers will have a clear advantage. Companies that do not will increasingly find themselves at a competitive disadvantage," the guild wrote.

WGA also made it clear that it doesn't matter that Leno and the other hosts can't negotiate their own deals like Letterman did. Their shows will now be key to the WGA's strike strategy.

"Our strike pressure will be intense and essential in directing political and SAG-member guests to Letterman and Ferguson rather than to struck talk shows," the WGA, saying picket lines in front of the NBC shows "are essential."

To underscore the notion that it's OK for stars to do Letterman but not Leno, SAG topper Alan Rosenberg issued a statement hailing the deal with Letterman's company.

"We hope this encourages all of the talk shows to follow suit and use only WGA writers," he said. "Screen Actors Guild members will be happy to appear on 'The Late Show with David Letterman' and 'Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson' with union writers at work and without crossing WGA picket lines."

Burnett conceded that WWP-produced shows will now have a competitive advantage, both in booking guests and in producing funny content.

"But I'd give it up in a second if it meant everyone could come back to work," he said. "What we want is for the thousands of writers who are out of work to be back at work.

"This is really about something much bigger than these shows and the competitive advantage we obviously get," Burnett added. "This is about the strike and people on the picket lines. The Guild has been very responsible in weighing the pain of the strike versus the future well-being of the membership."

For the producers of the other shows, however, the deal was a major headache.

Guest lists for next week's original shows have been a closely-guarded secret, no doubt because producers don't want to scare off celebs from appearing on struck shows. But the WGA and SAG missives Friday will increase pressure on celebs to stay away from latenight skeins not owned by Letterman.

The WGA called on Leno's Peacock employers to get back to the bargaining table.

"It's time for NBC Universal to step up to the plate and negotiate a company-wide deal that will put Jay Leno, who has supported our cause from the beginning, back on the air with his writers," it said.

Talks between WWP and the WGA weren't looking fruitful earlier this week. But that changed within the last 48 hours.

Before that, "We did not have any firm indication that this was going to transpire," Burnett said, though he emphasized that earlier talks between WWP and the WGA had been productive.

Burnett said he had tried to strike a deal with the WGA the moment the strike began. At the time, the Guild said it didn't think such a deal would be to its advantage.

But when the WGA announced plans to begin direct negotiations with companies, "We wanted to be the first in line," Burnett said.

Ex-stripper Diablo Cody beats odds with `Juno' screenplay

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

JEFF BAENEN Associated Press Writer

(AP) - MINNEAPOLIS - Diablo Cody has a tough-chick reputation - the tattooed, punkish sex blogger wrote a book about her year as a stripper, and the name of her blog is too risque for family newspapers.

But the novice screenwriter also has written a sweet movie that's shaping up as a holiday hit.

"Juno," a sardonic comedy about a pregnant 16-year-old who becomes a "cautionary whale" for her classmates, is rolling out to more and more theaters, picking up rave reviews and Oscar buzz along the way. And Cody is in demand, with several projects - including one with Steven Spielberg - pending. Entertainment Weekly recently ranked her 38th on a list of the 50 smartest people in Hollywood.

"It's insane, it really is. I sometimes wonder how much stimulation one person can take," Cody said during a "Juno" promotional stop in her former hometown. "I really feel like I have adrenaline fatigue or something."

Cody, 29, has defied high odds. Not only has her first screenplay been produced - "Juno" reaches the screen just over two years after she wrote the first draft - but she says it's virtually untouched from her original vision.

The chances of that happening are "one in a bazillion," said Mason Novick, who stumbled across Cody's racy blog while surfing for porn and ended up becoming her manager.

"Hollywood likes to hire a lot of writers and go through a lot of rigamarole," said Novick, one of the "Juno" producers. But the film's partners "knew that was her (Cody's) voice ... and left it alone."

"Juno," released by Fox Searchlight, opened with an amazing $60,000 (รข‚¬41,300) per-theater average take in limited release in early December and goes into wide release around Christmas. Reviews have been positive, with The Associated Press calling it "the kind of movie all indie comedies wish they could be: light and lovable, perhaps a bit too pleased with the cleverness of its dialogue, but a small charmer nonetheless."

In the movie, precocious Juno MacGuff (played by diminutive, 20-year-old Ellen Page) finds herself pregnant by high school friend Paulie Bleeker, a breath-mint-popping track star played by Michael Cera. After deciding against an abortion, Juno seeks out a childless yuppie couple (Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman) "desperately seeking spawn" (in the words of Juno's cheerleader girlfriend) who agree to adopt Juno's baby.

Cody, who grew up in Lemont, Illinois, outside of Chicago, was inspired by a high school friend who got pregnant and had some of the same experiences as the movie's title character, such as being mistreated by an ultrasound technician.

But Cody (real name Brook Busey-Hunt - she took her pen name during a trip to Cody, Wyoming.) said Juno is based on herself as a teenager. Juno's hamburger-shaped phone echoes one Cody herself had when she was growing up.

"I always say I'm kind of an emotional scavenger, because everything that I write about is drawn from life, it's drawn from experience that I actually had," Cody said between sips of Coke at a downtown hotel. She wore a Green Day T-shirt, blue jeans and classic Vans checkerboard slip-on shoes, with her hair dyed black and bobbed and her eyes outlined in mascara.

(There is another recent change in Cody's appearance. She's going through a divorce, and a freshly tattooed rose covers the "JONNY'S GIRL" banner on the pinup girl tattooed on her upper right arm.)

Cody chronicled her adventures as a stripper in Minneapolis in the 2006 memoir "Candy Girl." For "Juno," she said, she drew on her experiences when she was "young and sweet."

"I was able to kind of revisit that time," she said, "before the stripping, before anything in my life was vulgar.'"

"Juno" director Jason Reitman, 30, said he was intimidated to meet Cody after reading her sophisticated screenplay, but the feeling didn't last long.

"And I've just kind of absolutely fell in love with her. We just clicked from moment one, and it became kind of a very strong collaborative working relationship in which she was on-set almost every day," Reitman said in a telephone interview.

Cody's wit shines through "Juno." In one scene, Juno explains how her father named her after the Roman queen of the gods who was "really beautiful but really mean - like Diana Ross." When Garner's icily perfect character tells Juno that her parents may be wondering where she is, Juno replies: "I'm already pregnant, so what other kind of shenanigans can I get into?"

Reitman said he was amazed to find out that Cody - who banged out "Juno" on a laptop at a Starbucks in a suburban Target - had no formal training as a screenwriter. He also didn't know her background as a one-time stripper.

"I thought, `This girl's got a lotta wit,' and the words on the page seemed to live up to the woman. I was also struck by how much heart she had," Reitman recalls. "In our first meeting we talked ... as much about the ending of the movie being moving as we talked about the beginning of the movie being kind of snappy and funny."

Cody credits Reitman for setting the movie's tone and Page, a Canadian actress whose film credits include "Hard Candy" and "X-Men: The Last Stand," for the musical and fashion choices, such as the decision for Juno to wear sweater vests. Page is "the soul of Juno," she said.

"She's 10 years younger than me, but I still consider her a hero of mine," said Cody.

In the run-up to the Academy Award nominations, to be announced Jan. 22, "Juno" picked up three Golden Globe nominations - for Cody's screenplay; for best picture, comedy or musical; and for Page as best actress in a comedy or musical. It's also up for four Spirit Awards for independent films.

Before the writers' strike, Cody was moving ahead with Steven Spielberg on "The United States of Tara" for Showtime, starring Toni Collette in a comedy about a mom with multiple personalities. Cody also was working on "Girly Style," a college comedy for Universal, and will be a producer, along with Jason Reitman, on her horror comedy "Jennifer's Body," set to start filming in March.

Now living in Los Angeles, Cody said she's done five scripts or so since "Juno." And she has no plans to return to stripping.

"I can't," she said. "I'm too old."


On the Net:

Fox Searchlight:

The Hollywood Reporter

Producer sues ex-agent over 'Work'

By Leslie Simmons
Dec 28, 2007

TV producer David Russo has sued his former agent in Los Angeles Superior Court for $5 million, claiming she stole his idea for a reality show centered in a gym, which eventually became Bravo's "Work Out."

Russo alleges in the lawsuit filed Wednesday that Amy Shpall, a former UTA agent who is an executive producer on "Work Out," was privy to his concept for a reality show called "The Gym" and worked with him to develop the show. Also named as defendants are "Work Out" executive producer Bruce Toms, production company Mentorn USA, NBC Universal and UTA.

Shpall and Toms are repped by WMA and could not be reached for comment.

A UTA spokesman said the company had not seen a copy of the lawsuit but did confirm that Shpall has not worked at the agency since 2004. A rep for London-based Mentorn could not be reached for comment.

Russo, whose executive producer credits include "Hey Paula," "Magic Johnson's Who's Got Game" and "Combat Missions," claims that in 2004 he shared several drafts of his treatments for "The Gym" and his ideas to create a brand name and platform to merchandise health and fitness products with Shpall.

The lawsuit claims that after Shpall was either "fired or asked to leave" UTA in 2004, Russo continued to keep in touch with her because he considered her a "good and trusted friend." However, when Shpall was hired by Mentorn USA, he lost touch with her and never knew why until he learned about "Work Out."
Download Uproar: Record Industry Goes After Personal Use

By Marc Fisher
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 30, 2007; M05

Despite more than 20,000 lawsuits filed against music fans in the years since they started finding free tunes online rather than buying CDs from record companies, the recording industry has utterly failed to halt the decline of the record album or the rise of digital music sharing.

Still, hardly a month goes by without a news release from the industry's lobby, the Recording Industry Association of America, touting a new wave of letters to college students and others demanding a settlement payment and threatening a legal battle.

Now, in an unusual case in which an Arizona recipient of an RIAA letter has fought back in court rather than write a check to avoid hefty legal fees, the industry is taking its argument against music sharing one step further: In legal documents in its federal case against Jeffrey Howell, a Scottsdale, Ariz., man who kept a collection of about 2,000 music recordings on his personal computer, the industry maintains that it is illegal for someone who has legally purchased a CD to transfer that music into his computer.

The industry's lawyer in the case, Ira Schwartz, argues in a brief filed earlier this month that the MP3 files Howell made on his computer from legally bought CDs are "unauthorized copies" of copyrighted recordings.

"I couldn't believe it when I read that," says Ray Beckerman, a New York lawyer who represents six clients who have been sued by the RIAA. "The basic principle in the law is that you have to distribute actual physical copies to be guilty of violating copyright. But recently, the industry has been going around saying that even a personal copy on your computer is a violation."

RIAA's hard-line position seems clear. Its Web site says: "If you make unauthorized copies of copyrighted music recordings, you're stealing. You're breaking the law and you could be held legally liable for thousands of dollars in damages."

They're not kidding. In October, after a trial in Minnesota -- the first time the industry has made its case before a federal jury -- Jammie Thomas was ordered to pay $220,000 to the big record companies. That's $9,250 for each of 24 songs she was accused of sharing online.

Whether customers may copy their CDs onto their computers -- an act at the very heart of the digital revolution -- has a murky legal foundation, the RIAA argues. The industry's own Web site says that making a personal copy of a CD that you bought legitimately may not be a legal right, but it "won't usually raise concerns," as long as you don't give away the music or lend it to anyone.

Of course, that's exactly what millions of people do every day. In a Los Angeles Times poll, 69 percent of teenagers surveyed said they thought it was legal to copy a CD they own and give it to a friend. The RIAA cites a study that found that more than half of current college students download music and movies illegally.

The Howell case was not the first time the industry has argued that making a personal copy from a legally purchased CD is illegal. At the Thomas trial in Minnesota, Sony BMG's chief of litigation, Jennifer Pariser, testified that "when an individual makes a copy of a song for himself, I suppose we can say he stole a song." Copying a song you bought is "a nice way of saying 'steals just one copy,' " she said.

But lawyers for consumers point to a series of court rulings over the last few decades that found no violation of copyright law in the use of VCRs and other devices to time-shift TV programs; that is, to make personal copies for the purpose of making portable a legally obtained recording.

As technologies evolve, old media companies tend not to be the source of the innovation that allows them to survive. Even so, new technologies don't usually kill off old media: That's the good news for the recording industry, as for the TV, movie, newspaper and magazine businesses. But for those old media to survive, they must adapt, finding new business models and new, compelling content to offer.

The RIAA's legal crusade against its customers is a classic example of an old media company clinging to a business model that has collapsed. Four years of a failed strategy has only "created a whole market of people who specifically look to buy independent goods so as not to deal with the big record companies," Beckerman says. "Every problem they're trying to solve is worse now than when they started."

The industry "will continue to bring lawsuits" against those who "ignore years of warnings," RIAA spokesman Jonathan Lamy said in a statement. "It's not our first choice, but it's a necessary part of the equation. There are consequences for breaking the law." And, perhaps, for firing up your computer.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

At 84, lengendary Carroll Shelby keeps pedal to metal

Among his varied pursuits, the renowned former racing driver and muscle car designer is preparing a new Mustang with his unmistakable imprint.

Still rolling
Shelby, 84, sits at the wheel of one of his 1965 Shelby Cobras at his warehouse in Carson. The latest Shelby GT, which will sell for about $45,000, is “the best car out there for the money,” he says, though underpowered at only 340 horsepower.

By Sam Blair
Special to The Times

December 29, 2007

The rock star of the automotive industry is a Texan who speeds through life with heart and kidney transplants, precious little vision in his left eye and a crooked right arm, the souvenir of a long-ago Mexican road race in which he missed a turn and struck a boulder.

At 84, he roars around the test track at 150 mph as casually as the normal human parks the family sedan in the garage. And Carroll Shelby is still refitting Mustang convertibles and coupes to produce distinctive vehicles that bear his name.

You can see the latest in showrooms as soon as Shelby's Las Vegas production facility puts the finishing touches on the Shelby GT. The 2,300 cars are going to sell for about $45,000 each, but the price may rise because demand is so great.

"It's a damn good car -- the best car out there for the money right now," Shelby said. In his mind, though, it's not perfect, with just 340 horsepower.

"I'd like for it to have about 300 more," he said, "but with government regulations we have to be careful about insurance rates going up."

This baby has come a long way from the mid-1960s. That's when old friend Lee Iacocca called, just after Shelby's first Ford race car, the legendary Cobra, beat Ferrari and the rest of Europe's best at Le Mans. Iacocca asked him to design a competitive Mustang. Shelby, who was living in Los Angeles and operating his thriving Shelby American plant near Los Angeles International Airport, reluctantly agreed to try.

"It was practically impossible to take a little secretary's car that sold for $2,395 and turn it into something that would go out and win races," Shelby recalled.

But he did it. "Ford had a V8 engine I thought we could hop up. Then I asked my friend John Bishop at Sports Car Club of America what he thought I ought to do with the chassis. He said I ought to put bigger brakes on it, take the rear seats out and change to a much stiffer suspension."

Result: The first Shelby GT Mustang. Ford released it in mid-1965 and sold 500 or so, and buyers were delighted.

A three-time U.S. auto racing champion in the '50s and international headliner as well, Shelby was Sports Illustrated's driver of the year in 1956 and '57 and capped his competitive career by winning the Le Mans 24-hour endurance race in '59, driving for Aston-Martin. That's when his heart told him it was time to quit racing -- although he was only 36 -- and pursue his foremost goal of auto design.

"My heart went south on me when I won Le Mans and I had to take about 15 nitroglycerin tablets," he said. "That ain't no way to drive a race car. That's the way to a sudden finish."

Today Shelby is something of a miracle of medical science. In 1990, at age 67, he was told he had two weeks to live before he received a heart transplant at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Shelby said the donor was a 34-year-old man in great shape "who dropped dead shooting craps in Las Vegas."

"By May 1991 I was driving the pace car at the Indianapolis 500. Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, just back from Iraq, was grand marshal and I drove him around the track once at 150 mph. Later, he found out I'd had a heart transplant. He said, 'I had a couple of close calls in Desert Storm but nothing like that ride.' "

(In October 1991, Shelby made good on a pledge he'd made to "put enough back in," after seeing kids die on either side of him in intensive care. He founded the Carroll Shelby Children's Foundation, which has raised millions of dollars to help children with acute coronary and kidney needs. The foundation, bolstered by hundreds of thousands of dollars donated by fans after auctioning off their classic Cobras and Mustangs, sends Shelby's surgeon, Dr. Alfredo Trento, on an annual two-week trip to treat desperately ill children in South America.)

Shelby has another donor in son Mike, who in '96 gave his dad a kidney. Mike Shelby, a Dallas oilman, is 60 and marvels at his father's energy.

"He has always kept a schedule that would exhaust me," Mike said.

Shelby never has been bored. Besides racing and designing about 140 vehicles, his pursuits include flying planes, hunting elephants in Africa, farming chickens, inventing, breeding exotic cattle, cooking and overseeing a couple of dozen businesses as chairman of Carroll Shelby International.

A five-star chili fanatic, he was one of the founders of the famed Terlingua International Chili Championship in the Big Bend country of West Texas.

Shelby and Dallas attorney David Witts had bought 150,000 acres and a ghost town, and in '67 they were trying to sell the whole spread.

"Dave went to Tom Tierney, who had done PR for Ford in Dallas, and Tom came up with the chili cook-off," Shelby said. "We had H. Allen Smith [author-humorist] and Wick Fowler [veteran journalist and chili buff] as cooks. Frank X. Tolbert of the Dallas Morning News [author of 'A Bowl of Red'] got involved and did a great job for us. But we had 300 press people there. That's the kind of PR guy Tom Tierney was.

"Everybody stayed in this ol' ranch house for three days. All it was was an adult Woodstock. I had to send my DC-3 to El Paso twice to load up with booze," Shelby said.

Shelby and his fifth wife, Cleo, live in three homes in the U.S. Their Los Angeles residence sits on a Bel-Air hilltop with views of downtown, Catalina Island, Mt. Baldy, Long Beach and the basin. They also have a home in Las Vegas, but he considers their permanent residence to be his East Texas ranch at Pittsburg, just down the road from tiny Leesburg, "where I started and probably where I'll end up."

And where his eternal love of speed began.

"As a small boy I rode with my dad in his 1928 Whippet on dusty East Texas roads while he delivered his rural mail route. I'd stand on the floorboard on the right so I could see through the windshield. I'd yell, 'Let's go faster, Daddy!' "

The Shelbys moved to Dallas when Carroll was 7 and his father became a clerk at the downtown post office. "I got my driver's license when I was 14 and one day I took my dad to work in his '34 Plymouth. Going home I got caught doing 80 mph. That was the end of my driving for about six months."

Once Carroll entered Woodrow Wilson High School, the action really kicked in. He so treasures his memories of friends and adventures there that he still returns to East Dallas for reunions.

"We had a lot of fun racing in Lakewood," an upscale neighborhood in Dallas across the railroad tracks from the small frame house where the Shelbys lived. "I drove my dad's '38 Willys, the Lakewood guys their new Ford convertibles, and we had to race flat out down Abrams Road and cross Gaston Avenue going 60 mph. It's a wonder we didn't get killed."

Pick of the litter

He survived and became one of the world's best race drivers. But he always thought of designing cars someday.

"In the early '50s, I saw those European cars come over here with little four-cylinder engines and great chassis. I thought you could put an American V8 in the same hole. The Europeans put those little engines in there because gasoline was three or four dollars a gallon over there right after the war."

When Ford Motor Co. hired him in the early '60s, he put his theory to work.

"Ford had a new little V8 engine, so I said, 'If you'll give me a few engines and some money, I'll build you a car you can be proud of.' "

And the Cobra, his most famous car, was born. Today there are some 200 Shelby Cobra Clubs across the world. There also are lots of guys and gals in their 30s or early 40s named Shelby because their parents owned a Cobra.

Shelby plans to start another Cobra era soon. Besides a new car, he wants to launch Cobra Foods in a plant near his East Texas ranch. "We'll make Cobra chili and a lot of sugar-free and health foods. Same situation as Paul Newman's salad dressings. The money will go to charities."

There's always something. Asked to name the most exciting experience of his life, he answered: "Tomorrow."
The New York Times

There Will Be Blood (2007)

This movie has been designated a Critic's Pick by the film reviewers of The Times.
There Will Be Blood"There Will Be Blood" with Dillon Freasier, left, and Daniel Day-Lewis, opens on Wednesday.
December 26, 2007

Published: December 26, 2007

“There Will Be Blood,” Paul Thomas Anderson’s epic American nightmare, arrives belching fire and brimstone and damnation to Hell. Set against the backdrop of the Southern California oil boom of the late-19th and early-20th centuries, it tells a story of greed and envy of biblical proportions — reverberating with Old Testament sound and fury and New Testament evangelicalism — which Mr. Anderson has mined from Upton Sinclair’s 1927 novel “Oil!” There is no God but money in this oil-rich desert and his messenger is Daniel Plainview, a petroleum speculator played by a monstrous and shattering Daniel Day-Lewis.

Plainview is an American primitive. He’s more articulate and civilized than the crude, brutal title character in Frank Norris’s 1899 novel “McTeague,” and Erich von Stroheim’s masterly version of the same, “Greed.” But the two characters are brothers under the hide, coarse and animalistic, sentimental in matters of love and ruthless in matters of avarice. Mr. Anderson opens his story in 1898, closer to Norris’s novel than Sinclair’s, which begins in the years leading up to World War I. And the film’s opener is a stunner — spooky and strange, blanketed in shadows and nearly wordless. Inside a deep, dark hole, a man pickaxes the hard-packed soil like a bug gnawing through dirt. This is the earth mover, the ground shaker: Plainview.

Over the next two and a half mesmerizing hours Plainview will strike oil, then strike it rich and transform a bootstrapper’s dream into a terrifying prophecy about the coming American century. It’s a century he plunges into slicked in oil, dabbed with blood and accompanied by H. W. (eventually played by the newcomer Dillon Freasier), the child who enters his life in 1902 after he makes his first strike and seems to have burbled from the ground like the liquid itself. The brief scenes of Plainview’s first tender, awkward moments with H. W. will haunt the story. In one of the most quietly lovely images in a film of boisterous beauty, he gazes at the tiny, pale toddler, chucking him under the chin as they sit on a train very much alone.

“There Will Be Blood” involves a tangle of relationships, mainly intersecting sets of fathers and sons and pairs of brothers. (Like most of the finest American directors working now, Mr. Anderson makes little on-screen time for women.) But it is Plainview’s intense, needful bond with H. W. that raises the stakes and gives enormous emotional force to this expansively imagined period story with its pictorial and historical sweep, its raging fires, geysers of oil and inevitable blood. (Rarely has a film’s title seemed so ominous.) By the time H. W. is about 10, he has become a kind of partner to his father, at once a child and a sober little man with a jacket and neatly combed hair who dutifully stands by Plainview’s side as quiet as his conscience.

A large swath of the story takes place in 1911, by which point Plainview has become a successful oilman with his own fast-growing company. Flanked by the watchful H. W., he storms through California, sniffing out prospects and trying to persuade frenzied men and women to lease their land for drilling. (H. W. gives Plainview his human mask: “I’m a family man,” he proclaims to prospective leasers.) One day a gangling, unsmiling young man, Paul Sunday (Paul Dano), arrives with news that oil is seeping out of the ground at his family’s ranch. The stranger sells this information to Plainview, who promptly sets off with H. W. to a stretch of California desert where oil puddles the ground among the cactus, scrub and human misery.

Not long afterward oil is gushing out of that desert. The eruption rattles both the earth and the local population, whom Plainview soothes with promises. Poor, isolated, thirsting for water (they don’t have enough even to grow wheat), the dazed inhabitants gaze at the oilman like hungry baby birds. (Their barren town is oddly named Little Boston.) He promises schools, roads and water, delivering his sermon with a carefully enunciated, sepulchral voice that Mr. Day-Lewis seems to have largely borrowed from the director John Huston. Plainview is preaching a new gospel, though one soon challenged by another salesman, Paul Sunday’s Holy Roller brother, Eli (also Mr. Dano). A charismatic preacher looking to build a new church, Eli slithers into the story, one more snake in the desert.

Mr. Anderson has always worn his influences openly, cribbing from Martin Scorsese and Robert Altman among others (he helped the ailing Altman with his final film, “A Prairie Home Companion”), but rarely has his movie love been as organically integrated into his work as it is here. Movie history weighs on every filmmaker, informs every cut, camera angle and movement. “There Will Be Blood” is very much a personal endeavor for Mr. Anderson; it feels like an act of possession. Yet it is also directly engaged with our cinematically constructed history, specifically with films — “Greed” and “Chinatown,” but also “Citizen Kane” — that have dismantled the mythologies of American success and, in doing so, replaced one utopian ideal for another, namely that of the movies themselves.

This is Mr. Anderson’s fifth feature and it proves a breakthrough for him as a filmmaker. Although there are more differences than similarities between it and the Sinclair book, the novel has provided him with something he has lacked in the past, a great theme. It may also help explain the new film’s narrative coherence. His first feature, “Sydney” (also known as “Hard Eight”), showed Mr. Anderson to be an intuitively gifted filmmaker, someone who was born to make images with a camera. His subsequent features — “Boogie Nights,” “Magnolia” and “Punch-Drunk Love” — have ambition and flair, though to increasingly diminished ends. Elliptical, self-conscious, at times multithreaded, they contain passages of clarity and brilliance. But in their escalating stylization you feel the burdens of virtuosity, originality, independence.

“There Will Be Blood” exhibits much the same qualities as Mr. Anderson’s previous work — every shot seems exactly right — but its narrative form is more classical and less weighted down by the pressures of self-aware auteurism. It flows smoothly, linearly, building momentum and unbearable tension. Mr. Day-Lewis’s outsize performance, with its footnote references to Huston and strange, contorted Kabuki-like grimaces, occasionally breaks the skin of the film’s surface like a dangerous undertow. The actor seems to have invaded Plainview’s every atom, filling an otherwise empty vessel with so much rage and purpose you wait for him to blow. It’s a thrilling performance, among the greatest I’ve seen, purposefully alienating and brilliantly located at the juncture between cinematic realism and theatrical spectacle.

This tension between realism and spectacle runs like a fissure through the film and invests it with tremendous unease. You are constantly being pulled away from and toward the charismatic Plainview, whose pursuit of oil reads like a chapter from this nation’s grand narrative of discovery and conquest. His 1911 strike puts the contradictions of this story into graphic, visual terms. Mr. Anderson initially thrusts you close to the awesome power of the geyser, which soon bursts into flames, then pulls back for a longer view, his sensuously fluid camera keeping pace with Plainview and his men as they race about trying to contain what they’ve unleashed. But the monster has been uncorked. The black billowing smoke pours into the sky, and there it will stay.

With a story of and for our times, “There Will Be Blood” can certainly be viewed through the smeary window that looks onto the larger world. It’s timeless and topical, general and specific, abstract and as plain as the name of its fiery oilman. It’s an origin story of sorts. The opening images of desert hills and a droning electronic chord allude to the beginning of “2001: A Space Odyssey,” whose murderous apes are part of a Darwinian continuum with Daniel Plainview. But the film is above all a consummate work of art, one that transcends the historically fraught context of its making, and its pleasures are unapologetically aesthetic. It reveals, excites, disturbs, provokes, but the window it opens is to human consciousness itself.

“There Will Be Blood” is rated R (Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian). As the title warns, there will be blood.


Opens in New York and Los Angeles on Wednesday.

Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson; written by Mr. Anderson, based on the novel “Oil!” by Upton Sinclair; director of photography, Robert Elswit; edited by Dylan Tichenor; music by Jonny Greenwood; production designer, Jack Fisk; produced by Mr. Anderson, JoAnne Sellar and Daniel Lupi; released by Paramount Vantage and Miramax Films. Running time: 2 hours 38 minutes.

WITH: Daniel Day-Lewis (Daniel Plainview), Paul Dano (Paul Sunday/Eli Sunday), Kevin J. O’Connor (Henry), Ciaran Hinds (Fletcher) and Dillon Freasier (H. W.).

Friday, December 28, 2007

Grocery worker fired for stopping shoplifter

by Dave Gershman | The Ann Arbor News
December 27, 2007

"The fact that I worked at the store at (the time of the robbery) is coincidental. If I had went over to the book store on my break and they were being ripped off, I would have helped them." - fired worker John Schultz
• • •
"The fact that he touched him, period, is means for termination," - Kate Klotz, Whole Foods spokeswoman.

The Ann Arbor News

John Schultz says he lost his job at Whole Foods Market in Ann Arbor after he tried to stop a shoplifter from making a getaway. But the company says he went too far and violated a policy that prohibits employees from physically touching a customer - even if that person is carrying a bag of stolen goods.

Schultz says he had just punched out for a break at 7 p.m. on Sunday when he heard a commotion at the front door of the store, 3135 Washtenaw Ave. He said he came to the aid of the manager who yelled for help in stopping a shoplifter. Schultz, the manager and another employee cornered the shoplifter between two cars in the parking lot.

Schultz said he told the shoplifter he was making a citizens arrest and to wait for the police to arrive, but the shoplifter broke away from the group and ran across Washtenaw Avenue and toward a gas station at the corner of Huron Parkway.

Before the man could cross Huron Parkway, Schultz caught up and grabbed the man's jacket and put his leg behind the man's legs. When the manager arrived at the intersection, Schultz said, the manager told him to release the shoplifter, and he complied, and the shoplifter got away.

Schultz said he was called to the store's office the next day, on Christmas Eve, and was fired because he violated a company policy prohibiting employees from having any physical contact with a customer.

Kate Klotz, a company spokesperson, said the policy is clear and listed in a booklet that all employees have to acknowledge that they received before they can start work.

"The fact that he touched him, period, is means for termination," said Klotz.

Schultz said he acted as a private citizen on property that isn't owned by Whole Foods, but Klotz said where the incident happened doesn't change the policy.

"He is still considered an employee of Whole Foods Market regardless of where he was and what was happening," she said.

The police report of the incident doesn't mention Schultz's involvement. It says police responded to the call of retail fraud at 7:09 p.m. and could not locate the shoplifter.

The thief was described as a thin white male, 5-foot-10, in his mid-20s, wearing a black jacket, tan pants and carrying a backpack.

The report says store employees were suspicious when the man walked into the store and they watched as he filled up a basket and then took it into a bathroom. When he came out, his basket was empty, but his backpack looked full. Then he filled up a canvas store tote bag with groceries, and walked out the door.

The manager and the other employee told police they caught up to the shoplifter at the corner of Washtenaw and Huron Parkway. It says one of them grabbed the tote bag away from the shoplifter, and the suspect walked away. The bag contained $346 worth of food and other products.

Schultz, 35, of Ypsilanti Township, had worked at the store for five years, most recently as a fishmonger. He wants his job back.

"The fact that I worked at the store at (the time of the robbery) is coincidental," he said. "If I had went over to the book store on my break and they were being ripped off, I would have helped them."

Thursday, December 27, 2007

‘TMZ’ on TV Finds Its Footing

Harvey Levin and Jim ParatoreJim Paratore and Harvey Levin, shown in September, are the executive producers of “TMZ.”

By Brian Stelter

The three-month-old television version of “TMZ,” which is based on the popular Web site about the foibles of Britney, J. Lo and the like, continues to rank as the top-rated new show in syndication.

Harvey Levin, the managing editor of and the host of the series, said he has been thrilled with the popularity of the celebrity gossip show.

“The Web site was such a breakout that a lot of people were scoffing at the notion that we would, as they put it, ‘revert back to TV,’” Mr. Levin said in an interview this week. “I think people were almost writing it off as something that would fail, something that everyone else was doing on TV, and that it wouldn’t have the freshness of the Web site ­ and I think it does.”

The “TMZ” staff holds a 6:30 a.m. P.T. meeting to plot the day’s coverage. The program is produced at 1 p.m.; a few affiliates broadcast it live and most others show it later in the day.

The program has drawn an average rating of 2.0 in recent weeks, or roughly 2.2 million viewers, placing it well behind the established entertainment news brands (“Entertainment Tonight,” “Access Hollywood”) but ahead of the other recent additions to the syndication market (“The Steve Wilkos Show,” “Crosswords”).

Mr. Levin said that “TMZ” was attracting a younger audience than the other entertainment programs, perhaps bringing new viewers into the genre. In October, The New York Times noted that “people age 50 or older account for just 39 percent of its viewers, which also include a higher percentage of men than other entertainment shows.”

Bill Carroll, who analyzes syndication ratings as the vice president and director of programming for Katz Television Group, recently told Media Life Magazine that the series has already found its voice.

“It’s very distinctive and it has the sensibilities to run on stations that usually run more niche programming, as opposed to traditional news,” Mr. Caroll said. “It has an attitude, and I think most of the magazines out that are pure entertainment are more focused on things like movie openings and on-the-set at a TV show, whereas ‘TMZ’ is covering the water cooler topics like the Web site does.”

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Digi-Kings and Queens: They Rule the Net Picks the Top 25 Web Celebrities

web celebs


Dec. 25, 2007

Things change fast on the Internet--and fame is no exception. Nearly half of the online celebrities identified in the inaugural edition of the Web Celeb 25 failed to place on the list in this second edition. Among the casualties: YouTube star LonelyGirl15, who held last year's top spot, but has been usurped by a controversial gossip blogger. Other new faces include gadget gurus, video hosts and a boy genius CEO.

Competition was steep for this year's list. We collected data on 200 Internet personalities, and ranked their popularity in six categories. The final list of 25 names shows how the Web has leveled the playing field--so that now, even the unlikeliest character can become a star.

To generate the ranking, we first defined "Web Celeb" as a person famous primarily for creating or appearing in Internet-based content, and for being highly recognizable to a Web-based audience. That definition excludes people who were significantly famous before they hit the Web--like author Arianna Huffington, billionaire Mark Cuban or journalist Michelle Malkin--and leaves us with a pool of people whose fame depends on the Internet.

Next, we created a candidate list of 200 Web celebrities--up from 110 in our first edition of the list. Each candidate was ranked in five areas: Web references as calculated by Google; traffic ranking of their home page as calculated by Alexa; Technorati rank of their primary Web site or blog; and TV/radio mentions and press clips compiled from Factiva. We gave candidates bonus points if they regularly published their own videoblog or podcast. All six categories were then totaled to produce a final score.

Our new No. 1 Web Celeb, blogger Perez Hilton, was born Mario Lavandeira, but adopted a pen name when he started in the gossip business. Hollywood stars fear the wrath of this "Queen of Mean," who has earned a rabid following thanks to his sense of humor and snarky tone.

"[] has a really loyal fan base," says Heather Dougherty, director of research for Internet measurement company Hitwise. Ninety-one percent of Hilton's traffic is returning visitors. Those readers also include key demographics: 73% of the readers are women, and 71% are under the age of 35. Hitwise tracks 17 sites that fall into the category of celebrity news, says Dougherty, and in that category, Perez has 46% of the market share. His biggest competitor, Egotastic, has only 8%.

"[Perez Hilton's] personality is part of his success," says Elizabeth Currid, a professor at the University of Southern California and author of the book The Warhol Economy. "Sure, there are many celeb-obsessed Web sites, but Perez Hilton's claim to fame is that he is also a part of that celebrity presence online. That's what makes his blog more interesting."

Critics complain that Hilton spreads unconfirmed gossip and even outright errors--this August, he erroneously reported the death of Fidel Castro. But his audience seems to eat it up. "Voyeurism makes a lot of money," says Currid. "Sure, it's invasive, but it's is what the market wants ... [Perez] has made himself very famous by doing these sorts of controversial things. In turn, he's gotten a lot of social acclaim. He gets noticed."

The formula must be working: Perez is becoming a TV star, with gigs including guest-hosting The View, appearing as a contestant on MTV's Celebrity Rap Superstar and hosting his own series of specials, What Perez Sez, which airs on VH1.

Perez surged to No. 1 as last year's top Web Celeb, a 16-year-old home-schooled American teenager named Bree, plummeted off the list entirely. Unusually self-possessed and literate, Bree became famous after she recorded her private thoughts into a digital video camera and posted them on the Web under the name Lonelygirl15. The diaries attracted millions of fans, and quickly became one of YouTube's most-watched series.

In August 2006, when the videos were exposed as scripted fakes, and Bree was outed as 19-year-old New Zealand-born actress Jessica Rose, the news only served to increase her fame. Rose put a pretty face on a breaking phenomenon: that Internet-based entertainment provides an intensely powerful incubator for new stars.

But a lot can change in a year. Once viewers realized the program was fiction, its popularity fell. Rose turned to more mainstream work, including a Lindsay Lohan movie, I Know Who Killed Me, and a role on the ABC sitcom Greeks. But she hasn't remained in the public consciousness, and failed to rank high enough to make the new edition of the Web Celeb 25. (For more on the LonelyGirl15 phenomenon, see "Not Lonely Any More.")

The past and present No. 1 Web Celebs share one thing in common: They both provide proof of how just about anyone can make it big in the digital age. "Technology has made these things easy for someone like Perez Hilton to do," says Currid. "It's an inexpensive, easy start-up. ... It's a really quick way to access people."

That's the face of fame in the Internet age: A kid with a video camera has access to as large an audience as the biggest Hollywood star. A mom with a blog can attract more readers than a best-selling author. And an opinionated entrepreneur can become a guru to millions.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Chuck Norris says book is not 'Truth'

NEW YORK (AP) -- Trading karate chops for lawyers, tough guy actor Chuck Norris is taking on a new book titled "The Truth About Chuck Norris," saying it's a big lie and he wants to stop its distribution.

On Friday, Norris sued Penguin Group Inc. and the book's creator, Ian Spector, saying his good image is being spoiled by a book that depicts him as callous and unlawful and which he says includes false "facts" that are sometimes racist and lewd.

In a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, the actor, whose real name is Carlos Ray Norris, says the preface of the book refers to meetings between Norris and Spector, a Westbury, New York, resident and an undergraduate at Brown University, and the book also thanks Norris for "playing along."

But, the lawsuit said, Norris never authorized Penguin or its Gotham Books division to use his name, image or likeness in connection with commercial sales of the book, which was published on November 29.

The lawsuit said Norris told Penguin it was not authorized to publish the book but the publisher rejected Norris' claims. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages, a halt to publication and a recall of books already sold.

A message left with a spokesman for Penguin was not immediately returned.

Norris has been in more than 20 films. The actor was a six-time undefeated World Professional Middle Weight Karate champion who in 1997 became the first man in the Western Hemisphere to be awarded an 8th degree Black Belt Grand Master recognition in the Tae Kwon Do system, the lawsuit said.

The martial artist and actor has sued Penguin Group and author Ian Spector over the book The Truth About Chuck Norris: 400 Facts About the World's Greatest Human, claiming the tome unfairly exploits his name. He is seeking to stop its distribution.

The book in question is based on a list of "mythical facts" compiled on the Internet that includes statements such as:

  • Chuck Norris does not sleep. He waits.
  • Chuck Norris' tears cure cancer. Too bad he has never cried.
  • Chuck Norris can divide by zero.
  • The grass is always greener on the other side, unless Chuck Norris has been there. In that case, the grass is most likely soaked in blood and tears.
  • On his birthday, Chuck Norris randomly selects one lucky child to be thrown into the sun.
  • If you Google search "Chuck Norris getting his ass kicked," you will generate zero results. It just doesn't happen.

A preface to the book, which was published Nov. 29, thanks Norris for "playing along." And indeed, a rep for Norris said last year he was aware of the tribute of sorts and found it to be "very flattering," while the man himself wrote on his blog that he "neither [took] offense nor [took] these things too seriously."

However, the tough-guy actor's goodwill apparently only extended to the list of so-called facts when they were contained in cyberspace. Now that they have evolved into book form, he's having a harder time getting the joke.

In his lawsuit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, Norris claims he never authorized the use of his name, image or likeness in connection with the book.

Furthermore, he alleges that some of the "facts" wrongly portray him in a lewd or racist light or indicate that he engages in "illegal activities."

According to his court documents, Norris is seeking unspecified damages, a halt to publication and a recall of copies of the books already sold. Two Websites operated by Spector to promote the book, including, are also named in the suit.

Though Norris is apparently unwilling to have the "facts" about him published in book form, he's not opposed to having them used to endorse his political candidate of choice.

The actor recently appeared in a humorous campaign ad for Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, in which the two trade statements about each other back and forth.

"My plan to secure the border," says Huckabee..."two words: Chuck Norris."

"Mike Huckabee wants to put the IRS out of business," Norris says in response.

"Chuck Norris doesn't endorse, he tells America how it's gonna be," the presidential hopeful concludes.

Apparently, the truth about Chuck Norris is that when it comes to himself, he has a selective sense of humor.

adobe photoshop girl

Best Buy kiosks not connected to Internet


David Lazarus
Consumer Confidential
December 23, 2007

The Connecticut attorney general's office sued Best Buy in May, charging the electronics heavyweight with using deceptive in-store websites to trick customers into paying higher prices than available on the company's actual site.

"We thought Best Buy had addressed this," Connecticut Atty. Gen. Richard Blumenthal told me the other day. "That's what they said to us. Apparently that's not the case."

Apparently not.

Last week, Simi Valley resident Leigh Murphy, 53, went online in search of a new DVD player. He finally settled on a Toshiba model that he found on, marked down from $79.99 to $71.99.

He decided to stop by the store and buy it there instead.

"I just assumed the same price would be available," Murphy said. "That's why I didn't order it online."

He found the DVD player at the store without difficulty, but it was selling for the full $79.99 price. Murphy asked a salesman about the discrepancy. He said he'd found it online for less.

The salesman guided Murphy to one of Best Buy's in-store kiosks, which displayed a page virtually identical to the website Murphy had seen at home. He called up the Toshiba device and, lo and behold, no more markdown. It was going for the full list price.

Murphy, an engineer, wasn't sure what to make of this. So he returned home and went back online. Once again he visited, and once again the DVD player came up at the reduced price of $71.99.

So Murphy purchased the player online and then returned to the store to pick it up. But the experience left him wondering.

"It seems like they have one website online and a fake website that's available only in the store," Murphy said.

That's also what Blumenthal in Connecticut concluded after receiving numerous complaints from local residents. He called Best Buy's in-store kiosks "an Internet bait-and-switch" that allowed the store to charge higher prices once it got online shoppers through the door.

"Consumers seeking bargains were led to believe that lower online prices had expired or never existed," Blumenthal said. "Best Buy treated its customers like suckers."

Jerry Farrell Jr., commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection, said in a statement that the in-store kiosks appear to be "an intentional effort to mislead."

The state's lawsuit is proceeding.

Sue Busch, a Best Buy spokeswoman, acknowledged that customers may encounter different prices on the company's website than may be available in the store -- and at the store's kiosk.

" is the national price," she said. "Individual store prices may vary from market to market."

Busch said the in-store kiosks closely resemble Best Buy's website "for the sake of efficiency and to ensure that customers who were familiar with the national website could easily navigate the in-store kiosk to find what they were seeking."

She said the kiosks were never intended "for price-match purposes," but admitted that "a small percentage of customers did not receive a price match when they should have due to errors in policy execution."

Busch said that in response to the Connecticut attorney general's investigation, Best Buy placed a notice on its in-store site making clear that prices might not reflect what was available on the company's Internet website.

She added that store employees are trained to ensure that customers receive the prices they saw online.

To see for myself, I stopped by a Best Buy on L.A.'s Westside. I had no trouble finding one of the kiosks.

To access the in-store site, I had to click on a link marked "," which would seem to indicate pretty plainly that I was going to the company's website.

The in-store site was virtually indistinguishable from the actual website. Across the top were the same tabs linking to various product categories. There was also the same banner offering details for holiday deliveries.

The only significant difference was an inch-wide yellow strip sandwiched between the tabs and delivery notice that said, "This kiosk displays in-store prices -- which may differ from national Internet prices. Promotions can differ between stores and Internet. See your sales associate if you have questions."

The yellow strip disappears from view as soon as you scroll up the page.

Do most people understand that "national Internet prices" actually means prices available on Best Buy's own website? Do they understand that "Internet" promotions actually refer to sales on the real

I put those questions to a Best Buy salesman.

"Every day we get at least one person asking why he can't find a price he saw online," the salesman replied.

I said I was looking for a DVD player I'd seen online that was selling for $71.99. I said it wasn't on the kiosk site.

"Here," the salesman said, "let me show you a secret."

He switched to a different screen, typed in his employee I.D. number, and the real came up. "Try now," the salesman said.

I asked why the real website wasn't available to everyone.

He shrugged. "I wish I knew."

Maybe that's something California Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown should also be wondering.
Google's Ad Reach May Be Unrivaled
FTC Approves DoubleClick Deal

By Catherine Rampell and Frank Ahrens
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, December 21, 2007; D01

The $3.1 billion merger between Web search king Google and online ad giant DoubleClick approved by U.S. regulators yesterday may create an advertising powerhouse of unrivaled reach and knowledge of Internet users' lives, desires and interests.

The acquisition of DoubleClick combined with Google's search function and the data it collects from people as they use the Internet could result in Web surfers seeing more advertising that corresponds to their online activities. The trade-off, some say, is that users would lose control over more of their private information to Google.

Given its global scope, the deal still requires approval by the European Union, which has been more strict than the United States on antitrust reviews. The ambitions of big U.S. companies such as Microsoft have been curbed by European regulators.

Privacy advocates and Google's rivals have shifted their lobbying to Europe, where Google has a larger share of the online-search market.

The deal is one of many big-money mergers between Internet companies and advertising firms this year and heralds the era of data-based advertising, as companies seek more ways to acquire data about what people are doing on the Internet and to deliver highly targeted advertising to them. The fear is that the collection of so much personal data by one firm could expose it to theft and abuse via the Web or even cellphones.

Google has excelled at "contextual advertising," or sending text-based ads to Google users that relate to their search topics. For example, if a user searches for a specific automobile, Google will send car ads with search results.

DoubleClick is the Internet's leading company for producing display advertising for Web sites -- banners ads, video and such. The company has provided display advertising for almost every major online publisher, including Web sites for Sports Illustrated, and

Combined Google and DoubleClick technology could evolve so it delivers precisely targeted display and video advertising to the customers most likely to buy their advertisers' products.

Online is the fastest-growing sector in advertising, expanding at an annual rate of about 20 percent, far outpacing television, radio or outdoor. Because the Internet can tell advertisers a great deal about who sees their ads -- where they live, how much time they spend looking at the ad, which site they saw it on -- companies such as Google are buying companies with the most sophisticated tools to deliver ads to Internet users.

The deal was approved without conditions in a 4 to 1 vote yesterday by the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC said it does not think it is approving a Web advertising monopoly, though one commissioner and some others disagreed.

In a written statement, the commission said the merged companies would not control the user-data market, pointing out that Google's chief rivals -- Microsoft, Yahoo and Time Warner -- "have at their disposal valuable stores of data not available to Google."

In a statement on Google's corporate blog after the FTC vote, David C. Drummond, the company's general counsel, wrote: "Perhaps most importantly, the FTC's decision publicly affirms what we and numerous independent analysts have been saying for months: our acquisition does not threaten competition in what is a robust, innovative, and quickly evolving online advertising space."

FTC commissioner Pamela Jones Harbour disagreed, writing in her dissent: "I make alternate predictions about where this market is heading, and the transformative role the combined Google/DoubleClick will play if the proposed acquisition is consummated."

Privacy advocates were more forceful in their criticism of the proposed takeover.

"Google will be able to develop the most detailed profile of users around the world," said Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. "It will become the world's private ministry of information."

Google's rivals, led by Microsoft and AT&T, expressed concern about Google's ability to use the data aggregated by the merger to muscle out competitors in the online advertising market. Google's recent experiments to expand its advertising reach into other media, such as mobile phones and television, have also set off alarms among competitors and privacy advocates.

Microsoft bought an Internet-ad shop earlier this year, paying $6 billion for aQuantive, a Seattle firm that combines traditional media campaigns with search-based and new-media techniques, all built on user data.

Microsoft and AT&T declined to comment on the Google-DoubleClick merger approval.

Some in the advertising industry reacted to the FTC vote with caution but generally with less alarm than others.

"As with most mergers, they have beneficial aspects of the merger and slightly potentially troubling aspects of the merger," said Kevin Lee, executive chairman of Didit, which advises advertisers on how to spend their online marketing budgets. "This will make it easier to buy across different media types and across different targeting methodologies all at the same time, but the more troubling aspect is the reduction of competition."

Asked about the potential privacy concerns of the deal, Robert D. Liodice, president of the Association of National Advertisers, was more blunt.

"Doesn't everyone know everything about everybody anyway?" said Liodice, whose group asked the FTC to review the Google-DoubleClick merger. "We've got identity theft going on everywhere. We have a national issue of people not being able to trust whether their private information is secure or not. I view the potential concern about the Google-DoubleClick deal as a drop in the bucket compared to the national issues at play."

Though the FTC noted its concerns about deal's privacy implications, the panel said it does not think it has the authority to consider privacy in an antitrust review.

"This merger, and their forays into other media, helps Google follow you if you want them to -- and even if you don't -- across a huge expanse of the globe," said Joseph Turow, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School for Communication.

More people use Google than any other search engine; 65 percent of all Internet searches are conducted through Google. In the third quarter of this year, the company reported revenue of $4.2 billion. Google shares closed at $689.69 yesterday, up $12.32.

DoubleClick's 2006 revenue was about $150 million, according to a number of reports. Its $3.1 billion price demonstrated Google's zeal to buy the company and the growth potential Google sees in online advertising.

Europe's approach to privacy policies tends to be more strict than that taken in the United States. Privacy is explicitly enshrined as a fundamental human right in the European Union's constitution -- but the E.U. regulatory body reviewing the merger has said it will focus on antitrust issues and complete its review by April 2.

"The E.U. is a bigger potential roadblock than the FTC was, but it's hard to say if they'd actually block the merger," said Blair Levin, an analyst at Stifel Nicolaus. "It's a possibility but by no means a certainty."

If the European Commission were to impose conditions on the merger, Google could collect different data about its users in the United States and Europe. The company declined to say whether it would do that.

The FTC is considering alternative ways to address the privacy issues inherent to data-gathering in online advertising. Separate from the merger review, the FTC issued a call for comments on five self-regulatory privacy principles for online advertising companies.

The New York Times
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December 23, 2007
Scene Stealer

The Afterlife Is Expensive for Digital Movies


TIME was, a movie studio could pack up a picture and all of its assorted bloopers, alternate takes and other odds and ends as soon as the production staff was done with them, and ship them off to the salt mine. Literally.

Having figured out that really big money comes from reselling old films — on broadcast television, then cable, videocassettes, DVDs, and so on — companies like Warner Brothers and Paramount Pictures for decades have been tucking their 35-millimeter film masters and associated source material into archives, some of which are housed in a Kansas salt mine, or in limestone mines in Kansas and Pennsylvania.

A picture could sit for many, many years, cool and comfortable, until some enterprising executive decided that the time was ripe for, say, a Wallace Beery special collection timed to a 25th-anniversary 3-D rerelease of “Barton Fink,” with a hitherto unseen, behind-the-scenes peek at the Coen brothers trying to explain a Hollywood in-joke to John Turturro.

It was a file-and-forget system that didn’t cost much, and made up for the self-destructive sins of an industry that discarded its earliest works or allowed films on old flammable stock to degrade. (Indeed, only half of the feature films shot before 1950 survive.)

But then came digital. And suddenly the film industry is wrestling again with the possibility that its most precious assets, the pictures, aren’t as durable as they used to be.

The problem became public, but just barely, last month, when the science and technology council of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences released the results of a yearlong study of digital archiving in the movie business. Titled “The Digital Dilemma,” the council’s report surfaced just as Hollywood’s writers began their walkout. Busy walking, or dodging, the picket lines, industry types largely missed the report’s startling bottom line: To store a digital master record of a movie costs about $12,514 a year, versus the $1,059 it costs to keep a conventional film master.

Much worse, to keep the enormous swarm of data produced when a picture is “born digital” — that is, produced using all-electronic processes, rather than relying wholly or partially on film — pushes the cost of preservation to $208,569 a year, vastly higher than the $486 it costs to toss the equivalent camera negatives, audio recordings, on-set photographs and annotated scripts of an all-film production into the cold-storage vault.

All of this may seem counterintuitive. After all, digital magic is supposed to make information of all kinds more available, not less. But ubiquity, it turns out, is not the same as permanence.

In a telephone interview earlier this month, Milton Shefter, a longtime film preservationist who helped prepare the academy’s report, said the problems associated with digital movie storage, if not addressed, could point the industry “back to the early days, when they showed a picture for a week or two, and it was thrown away.”

Mr. Shefter and his associates do not contend that films are actually on the verge of becoming quite that ephemeral. But they do see difficulties and trends that could point many movies or the source material associated with them toward “digital extinction” over a relatively short span of years, unless something changes.

At present, a copy of virtually all studio movies — even those like “Click” or “Miami Vice” that are shot using digital processes — is being stored in film format, protecting the finished product for 100 years or more. For film aficionados, the current practice is already less than perfect. Regardless of how they are shot, most pictures are edited digitally, and then a digital master is transferred to film, which can result in an image of lower quality than a pure film process — and this is what becomes stored for the ages.

But over the next couple of decades, archivists reason, the conversion of theaters to digital projection will sharply reduce the overall demand for film, eventually making it a sunset market for the main manufacturers, Kodak, Fujifilm and Agfa. At that point, pure digital storage will become the norm, bringing with it a whole set of problems that never troubled film.

To begin with, the hardware and storage media — magnetic tapes, disks, whatever — on which a film is encoded are much less enduring than good old film. If not operated occasionally, a hard drive will freeze up in as little as two years. Similarly, DVDs tend to degrade: according to the report, only half of a collection of disks can be expected to last for 15 years, not a reassuring prospect to those who think about centuries. Digital audiotape, it was discovered, tends to hit a “brick wall” when it degrades. While conventional tape becomes scratchy, the digital variety becomes unreadable.

DIFFICULTIES of that sort are compounded by constant change in technology. As one generation of digital magic replaces the next, archived materials must be repeatedly “migrated” to the new format, or risk becoming unreadable. Thus, NASA scientists found in 1999 that they were unable to read digital data saved from a Viking space probe in 1975; the format had long been obsolete.

All of that makes digital archiving a dynamic rather than static process, and one that costs far more than studios have been accustomed to paying in the past — no small matter, given that movie companies rely on their libraries for about one-third of their $36 billion in annual revenue, according to a recent assessment by the research service Global Media Intelligence.

“It’s been in the air since we started talking about doing things digitally,” Chris Cookson, president of Warner’s technical operations and chief technology officer, said of the archiving quandary.

One of the most perplexing realities of a digital production like “Superman Returns” is that it sometimes generates more storable material than conventional film, creating new questions about what to save. Such pile-ups can occur, for instance, when a director or cinematographer who no longer has to husband film stock simply allows cameras to remain running for long stretches while working out scenes.

Much of the resulting data may be no more worth saving that the misspellings and awkward phrases deleted from a newspaper reporter’s word-processing screen. Then again, a telling exchange between star and filmmaker might yield gold as a “special feature” on some future home-viewing format — so who wants to be responsible for tossing it into the digital dustbin?

For now, studios are saving as much of this digital ephemera as possible, storing it on tapes or drives in vaults not unlike those that house traditional film. But how much of that material will be migrated when technology shifts in 7 or 10 years is anyone’s guess. (And archiving practices in the independent film world run the gamut, from studied preservation to complete inattention, noted Andrew Maltz, director of the academy’s science and technology council.)

According to Mr. Shefter, a universal standard for storage technology would go far toward reducing a problem that would otherwise grow every time the geniuses who create digital hardware come up with something a little better than their last bit of wizardry.

As the report put it, “If we allow technological obsolescence to repeat itself, we are tied either to continuously increasing costs — or worse — the failure to save important assets.”

In other words, we could be watching Wallace Beery long after more contemporary images are gone.

Writers face faceless enemy

Corporations putting Hollywood in check

"Here's what's creepy about this war," one striking writer told me last week. "I know who my allies are, but I don't really know my enemy."

The writer has a point. In Hollywood's past labor clashes, the "enemy" -- usually a studio titan -- was front and center. It may have been Louis B. Mayer or Walt Disney or, still later, Lew Wasserman, but it was always clear who loomed at the other end of the bargaining table.

In the present dispute, all of the various corporate leaders have been careful in avoiding center stage. It's clearly a case of the writers versus "Them."

The "Them," to be sure, are the multinational corporations that own Hollywood. Indeed, the strike represents yet another episode of a series of events this year that have reminded Hollywood that it's but a small cog in the global assembly line.

The "congloms," as Variety likes to call them, have dominated the news in '07. The box office triumphs of the summer tentpole movies reflected the successful strategy of the congloms. So did the giant Internet deals involving the MySpaces of the world. So did the dust-up between Viacom and DreamWorks, in which Steven Spielberg's presence in the corporate hierarchy was described as "immaterial." So did the "dismissal" of Tom Cruise and the appointment of corporate marketing apparatchiks to top production posts at one studio after another.

To a major degree, the writers strike itself (and follow-up clashes) are being fueled not by movies or TV, but by the money and power of the congloms and by their potential stranglehold over future technologies.

All this carries a degree of culture shock for the town's older writers and artisans. They can remember when Hollywood was a town built around its Dream Factories. Film was its economic base and, despite ties to New York bankers, its management base was in Hollywood.

Today, as the events of '07 remind us, Hollywood is a mere plaything of the international congloms, and Hollywood product represents a relatively minor sector of the product line. Today's managers are a far cry from the Louis B. Mayers or Lew Wassermans of old. Indeed, to a growing degree, they don't even want to be part of the scene.

Sony's Sir Howard Stringer spends more time in Tokyo than Culver City. Jeff Bewkes, the new Brahmin of Time Warner, is a skilled corporate warrior with ties to New York and to TV and technology. Viacom's future leadership is a topic of endless speculation.

And then there's the fascinating case of News Corp., where Rupert Murdoch, 76, is on his way to moving his 34-year-old son, James, to take the reins of the family's giant media monolith. The young Murdoch's rise to power places in doubt the future of Peter Chernin, surely one of Hollywood's smartest operators, but whose deal as COO of News Corp. is up in summer '09.

The symbolism of all this is imposing. Chernin is one corporate hierarch who, while climbing the ladder, has occupied almost every type of marketing and production job. By contrast, the young Murdoch has spent his time at BSkyB, the British satellite TV firm.

And as the Economist reminded us last week, some important shareholders are uneasy about the prospect of someone so light on experience taking the reins of a major international conglom.

Already, says the Economist, the young Murdoch's allies are taking control of Rupert's newest acquisition, The Wall Street Journal. Chernin reportedly had limited enthusiasm for the deal -- Murdoch paid a 65% premium for the Dow Jones package.

The James Murdoch-Peter Chernin scenario reflects yet another chapter in the long-term melodrama over "Who Runs Hollywood?" It also adds another layer to the question asked by the striking writer -- namely, who is the "enemy?"

The corporate players making the decisions about Hollywood's future may increasingly be individuals for whom Hollywood itself is "immaterial" (in Viacom's immortal words).

The seemingly limitless wealth and resources of the global congloms may represent a tempting target for guild negotiators. But those very same resources may also constitute the reason why life at the bargaining table may become increasingly rigorous.

Which idealist from the past said, "I have seen the future and it works"? Well, the typical striker may revise that to "I have seen the future and it's scary."

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Blockbuster hikes prices for DVDs by mail

Movie rental company, which had been charging less than cost, is boosting prices for new customers and some existing ones.

DALLAS (AP) -- Blockbuster, which has been losing money on online movie orders, is boosting prices of its DVD-by-mail service for new customers and some existing ones by up to 40 percent.

The movie-rental giant began notifying customers of the increases - and some price cuts - early Thursday. The hikes of $2 to $10 will take effect next week and caused an immediate buzz on Internet boards.

The immediate beneficiary of the move was rival Netflix (NFLX) - its shares jumped more than 9 percent. Blockbuster (BBI, Fortune 500) shares barely budged.

Blockbuster declined to say how many of its 3.1 million online subscribers are facing rate increases.

Spokeswoman Karen Raskopf also declined to disclose which current customers will see price hikes other than saying, "We are taking into account the profitability of individual subscribers."

Blockbuster lost half a million online customers in the July-September quarter. Chief Executive James W. Keyes said last month that many of those subscribers were costing his company more than they were worth.

The company spent heavily to advertise the online service, and it lost money when customers took their movies back to stores for free exchanges.

While Blockbuster was losing online customers over the summer - and said it would stop reporting the number of subscribers - Netflix cut prices and added 286,000 subscribers, pushing it over the 7-million mark.

Netflix pioneered the online ordering and mail delivery of rental movies in 1999. Blockbuster followed in 2004, and cut into Netflix's lead during late 2006 and early 2007.

Blockbuster offers several plans for subscribers who order movies online and receive them in the mail. The most popular plan lets customers keep three DVDs at any time and exchange up to five DVDs per month at a local Blockbuster store for a free rental.

That plan will rise from $17.99 to $19.99 per month for new customers and some existing ones beginning Dec. 27, the company said.

The top-of-the-line plan, in which customers can keep three DVDs out and get unlimited free in-store exchanges, will go from $24.99 to $34.99 per month, a 40 percent increase.

A basic plan that lets subscribers keep one DVD but doesn't entitle them to free in-store exchanges will drop from $4.99 to $3.99 per month.

Spokeswoman Raskopf called the plans "a really good value for consumers" that must be balanced against "providing a fair return to Blockbuster." She said the Dallas company hopes the increases won't cause existing subscribers to quit.

"This is not a plan to drive people away," she said. "We want to keep them all."

A spokesman for Netflix said the Los Gatos, Calif.-based company doesn't plan to change its standard pricing but continues to test different rates.

"The greatest convenience, selection and value continues to be with Netflix," said the spokesman, Steve Swasey.

Blockbuster shares rose 5 cents, to $3.55, in trading Thursday, while Netflix shares gained $2.37, or 9.5 percent, to $27.24.