Tuesday, April 23, 2019

News Briefs

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  • Thursday, Mar. 14, 2019
Jussie Smollett pleads not guilty to lying about attack
"Empire" actor Jussie Smollett, center, arrives at the Leighton Criminal Court Building for his hearing on Thursday, March 14, 2019, in Chicago. Smollett is accused of lying to police about being the victim of a racist and homophobic attack by two men on Jan. 29 in downtown Chicago. (AP Photo/Matt Marton)

"Empire" actor Jussie Smollett pleaded not guilty Thursday to charges accusing him of lying to the police about being the victim of a racist and homophobic attack in downtown Chicago a few weeks ago.

Lawyer Tina Glandian entered the plea on behalf of the 36-year-old actor during a hearing in Cook County Circuit Court after Judge Steven Watkins was assigned to oversee the case, including the trial.

Watkins granted Smollett's request to be allowed to meet with lawyers in New York and California, but said the actor must give the court at least 48 hours' prior notice. He scheduled the next hearing for April 17.

Smollett is charged with 16 counts of disorderly conduct.

Prosecutors allege that Smollett, who is black and gay and plays the gay character Jamal Lyon on the hit Fox TV show, hired two friends to help him stage the attack on him in downtown Chicago early on the morning of Jan. 29. They say Smollett was unhappy about his salary and wanted to drum up publicity to help his career.

Smollett has denied that he staged the attack and maintains he is innocent. His attorneys have called the charges against him "prosecutorial overkill."

There were several supporters outside the courthouse doors as Smollett arrived for the hearing, including some who waved signs. Activist Wisdom Cole led a few chants in support of the actor, the black community and the LGBT community.

"Jussie has been a person of high caliber and character. He comes from an activist family. He has a consistent track record and history of supporting marginalized people ... and so his track record is not on par with the idea of a hoax," she said.

  • Wednesday, Mar. 13, 2019
Once Upon a Time expands into US with acquisition of IdeaWork Studios
Joe Garton, CEO of Once Upon A Time (l), and Jay Schwartz, CEO and ECD, IdeaWork Studios

London-based integrated agency Once Upon A Time (OUAT) has acquired IdeaWork Studios, broadening its offerings and expanding for the first time into the U.S. Headquartered in New York, IdeaWork specializes in branding and digital for the hospitality, luxury, entertainment, and gaming sectors. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The addition of IdeaWork to the Once Upon A Time stable is the group’s seventh acquisition and aligned with its strategy to offer an independent, integrated approach from media buying and advertising to in-store retail marketing. The acquisition is OUAT’s first in the States and gives the agency offices in New York, Las Vegas, and Santa Barbara. In addition, the founder of IdeaWork, Jay Schwartz, will take on the role of executive creative director for the OUAT group, while retaining his position as CEO and ECD at IdeaWork Studios. Joe Garton is OUAT CEO.

Founded in 1999, IdeaWork is an established branding and digital agency that counts Michelin-starred chefs like Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Eric Ripert, Daniel Boulud, Charlie Palmer, and Michael White; boutique hotels like Ian Schrager’s PUBLIC and EDITION, RFR’s Gramercy Park Hotel, 11 Howard, and The Jaffa; and resorts like Gurney’s Montauk and Carillon Miami amongst its clients.

  • Tuesday, Mar. 12, 2019
Production designer William Creber, a 3-time Oscar nominee, dies at 87
William "Bill" Creber

Production designer/art director William “Bill” Creber, a three-time Oscar nominee, died in Los Angeles on March 7 of complications from pneumonia after a prolonged illness. He was 87.

Creber was best known for his work on the original Planet of the Apes (1968) followed by Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) and Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971).

Creber’s Oscar nominations came for his designer work on The Greatest Story Ever Told (1964), The Poseidon Adventure (1965) and The Towering Inferno (1975) for which he also received a BAFTA nomination. He was nominated for a Primetime Emmy® in 1964 for Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and was honored with an Art Directors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005.

Nelson Coates, president of the Art Directors Guild (ADG, IATSE Local 800), said, “This was the man who designed and then flipped cruise ships, burned skyscrapers, and created an entire ape culture. Though his last feature was 21 years ago, Bill Creber remained a vital influence in the industry, with his institutional memory, sharing of relevant production solutions, and his amazing skills devising, executing, and teaching incredible methods of in-camera visual effects.”

Among Creber’s many additional credits are Islands in the Stream, Any Which Way You Can, Flight of the Navigator and the TV series Mod Squad. His last credit was for 2001’s The Last Brickmaker in America.

Creber is survived by his wife Sally Queen, daughter Carolyn Karges and son Ken Creber. Details for a memorial service will be announced shortly.

  • Tuesday, Mar. 12, 2019
TV stars and coaches charged in college bribery scheme
This combination photo shows actress Lori Loughlin at the Women's Cancer Research Fund's An Unforgettable Evening event in Beverly Hills, Calif., on Feb. 27, 2018, left, and actress Felicity Huffman at the 70th Primetime Emmy Awards in Los Angeles on Sept. 17, 2018. Loughlin and Huffman are among at least 40 people indicted in a sweeping college admissions bribery scandal. Both were charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud in indictments unsealed Tuesday in federal court in Boston. (AP Photo)

Hollywood actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin were charged along with nearly 50 other people Tuesday in a scheme in which wealthy parents bribed college coaches and insiders at testing centers to help get their children into some of the most elite schools in the country, federal prosecutors said.

"These parents are a catalog of wealth and privilege," U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said in announcing the $25 million federal bribery case.

He called it the biggest college admissions scam ever prosecuted by the U.S. Justice Department.

At least nine athletic coaches and dozens of parents were among those charged. A total of 46 people were arrested by midday, including Huffman and Loughlin, in an investigation dubbed Operation Varsity Blues, federal authorities said.

Prosecutors said parents paid an admissions consultant from 2011 through last month to bribe coaches and administrators to label their children as recruited athletes, to alter test scores and to have others take online classes to boost their children's chances of getting into schools.

Parents spent anywhere from $200,000 to $6.5 million to guarantee their children's admission, officials said.

"For every student admitted through fraud, an honest and genuinely talented student was rejected," Lelling said.

Lelling said the investigation is continuing and authorities believe other parents were involved. The schools themselves are not targets of the investigation, he said.

No students were charged. Authorities said in many cases the students were not aware of the fraud.

The coaches worked at such schools as Stanford, Georgetown, Wake Forest, the University of Southern California and University of California, Los Angeles. A former Yale soccer coach pleaded guilty and helped build the case against others.

Authorities said coaches in such sports as soccer, tennis and volleyball accepted bribes to put students on lists of recruited athletes, regardless of their ability or experience. That, in turn, boosted the students' chances of admission.

The bribes allegedly came through an admissions consulting company in Newport Beach, California. Authorities said parents paid the founder of the Edge College & Career Network approximately $25 million to get their children into college.

Loughlin appeared in the ABC sitcom "Full House," and Huffman starred in ABC's "Desperate Housewives." Both were charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud.

Court documents said Huffman paid $15,000 that she disguised as a charitable donation so that her daughter could take part in the college entrance cheating scam.

Court papers said a cooperating witness met with Huffman and her husband, actor William H. Macy, at their Los Angeles home and explained the scam to them. The cooperator told investigators that Huffman and her spouse "agreed to the plan."

A spokeswoman for Loughlin had no comment. Messages seeking comment from Huffman's representatives were not immediately returned.

  • Monday, Mar. 11, 2019
Beyonce, Jay-Z to be honored at GLAAD Media Awards
In this Nov. 4, 2016 file photo, Beyonce and Jay-Z perform during a Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton campaign rally in Cleveland. The power couple will be honored for accelerating LGBTQ acceptance at the GLAAD Media Awards on March 28. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

Beyonce and Jay-Z are getting recognized for achievements outside of music: The power couple will be honored at the GLAAD Media Awards for accelerating LGBTQ acceptance.

GLAAD announced Monday that the Carters will receive its Vanguard Award at its 30th annual awards on March 28 at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, California. The award, previously given to Cher, Janet Jackson, Elizabeth Taylor and Antonio Banderas, honors "allies who have made a significant difference in promoting acceptance of LGBTQ people," GLAAD said.

GLAAD said Beyonce, who has a large gay fanbase, is being recognized for speaking out about marriage equality nationwide; for including members of the LBGTQ community in her music videos; and for dedicating one of her performances to the victims and survivors of the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting.

Jay-Z received the GLAAD Special Recognition Award last year for his song and video for "Smile," which featured his mother Gloria Carter, who is a lesbian. GLAAD said the rap icon is being honored because of his inclusion of LGBTQ artists in his work, from Janet Mock to James Baldwin, and for his support of marriage equality.

  • Saturday, Mar. 9, 2019
Showtime cancels "SMILF" after reports of on-set misconduct
In this Monday, Feb. 11, 2019, file photo, Frankie Shaw arrives at a premiere in Los Angeles. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP, File)

Showtime has canceled the comedy series "SMILF" after two seasons, and ABC studios, which produces the show, has suspended a development deal with its creator, star and executive producer Frankie Shaw.

The dual announcements Friday came after a December story in The Hollywood Reporter that detailed allegations of abusive on-set behavior and violations of industry rules by Shaw, who also directs some episodes of the show. Shaw denied the allegations, saying she worked to create a safe environment and it pained her to learn that any cast and crew were uncomfortable on her set.

Neither Showtime nor ABC gave a reason for their decisions.

"After weighing a variety of factors, Showtime has decided that 'SMILF' will not move forward for a third season," the cable channel's statement said. "We remain extremely proud of the two seasons of SMILF, and thank Frankie Shaw for her singular voice and unique creation."

Showtime will continue to air the second season through its March 31 finale.

Last summer, Shaw signed a two-year development deal with ABC Studios, which has been investigating the reports of on-set problems.

In a brief statement, the studio said, "Frankie Shaw's overall deal with ABC Studios has been suspended without pay while we review our options."

In her own statement, Shaw said, "I can't express how much I've loved making this show, how much I love the cast and crew and appreciate Showtime and ABC as creative partners."

"SMILF," which features Shaw as a down-on-her-luck single mom in Boston with a cast that includes Rosie O'Donnell and Connie Britton, was built on a short film Shaw showed at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.

It premiered in 2017 to critical acclaim and got two Golden Globe nominations.

But allegations from cast and crew emerged in The Hollywood Reporter story, all denied by Shaw, including the mishandling of sex scenes that breached actors' contracts and separating writers by race.

  • Friday, Mar. 8, 2019
Smollett indicted on 16 counts stemming from reported attack
In this May 20, 2016 file photo, actor and singer Jussie Smollett attends the "Empire" FYC Event in Los Angeles. (Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP, File)

A grand jury in Chicago indicted "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett on 16 felony counts related to making a false report that he was attacked by two men who shouted racial and homophobic slurs.

The Cook County grand jury indictment filed Thursday says he made a false report about an offense.

The Cook County State's Attorney charged Smollett on Feb. 20 with one count of disorderly conduct for filing a false police report.

Smollett told police in late January that he was physically attacked by two men in downtown Chicago while out getting food from a Subway restaurant at 2 a.m. The actor said the men shouted at him, wrapped a rope around his neck and poured an "unknown substance" on him. Police said Smollett, who is black and gay, told detectives the attackers also yelled he was in "MAGA country," an apparent reference to President Donald Trump's "Make America Great Again" campaign slogan that some Trump critics have decried as racist and discriminatory.

After an investigation, Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said Smollett recruited two men to stage the attack because he was upset with his pay on the Fox show. Smollett has denied playing a role in the attack.

  • Friday, Mar. 8, 2019
Warner Bros. CEO apologizes to staff amid misconduct reports
In this Feb. 6, 2013, file photo, Kevin Tsujihara, poses for photos in a screening room at the Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

Warner Bros. chairman and CEO Kevin Tsujihara is apologizing to his staff amid a WarnerMedia investigation into sexual misconduct reports prompted by an article in The Hollywood Reporter earlier this week.

Tsujihara is under scrutiny for claims that he promised acting roles and auditions to an actress whom he was having a sexual relationship with.

In the memo obtained by The Associated Press Friday, Tsujihara says he regrets making mistakes in his personal life that have caused pain and embarrassment to people he loves and the company.

He says he intends to cooperate with the investigation and the third-party law firm enlisted to review the claims.

The actress involved has said in a statement that there was no impropriety and she has no claims against him.

  • Thursday, Mar. 7, 2019
Moonshine Post cuts horror for director Darren Lynn Bousman's "St. Agatha"
Seth Michaels as Father Andrew in the horror film “St. Agatha,” an Uncork’d Entertainment release (photo courtesy of Uncork’d Entertainment)

Moonshine Post-Production, a full-service post house in Atlanta, helped create a total post pipeline for the film, St. Agatha, directed by Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw II, Saw III, Saw IV, Repo the Genetic Opera), from dailies to finishing. The film made its U.S. premiere last month in Los Angeles. The project was brought to Atlanta by producers Seth and Sara Michaels, for production, and returned for a producer’s cut, which was co-edited by Gerhardt Slawitschka and Patrick Perry, and colored by John Peterson, all from Moonshine Post. 

St. Agatha is a horror film that shot in the town of Madison, Georgia.  “The house we needed for the convent was perfect, as the area was one of the few places that had not burned down during the Civil War,” explained Seth Michaels. “It was our first time shooting in Atlanta, and the number one reason was because of the tax incentive. But we also knew Georgia had an infrastructure that could handle our production.”

What the producers didn’t know during production was that Moonshine Post could handle all aspects of post, and were initially brought in only for dailies. With the opportunity to do a producer’s cut, they returned to Moonshine Post.

Time and budget dictated everything, and Moonshine Post was able to offer two editors working in tandem to edit a final cut.  “Why not cut in collaboration?” suggested Drew Sawyer, founder of Moonshine Post and executive producer. “It will cut the time in half, and you can explore different ideas faster.”

“We quite literally split the movie in half,” said Perry. “It’s a 90-minute film, and there was a clear break. It’s a little unusual, I will admit, but almost always when we are working on something, we don’t have a lot of time, so splitting it in half works.”

“The editors, Patrick and Gerhardt, were great,” said Sara Michaels. “They watched every single second of footage we had, so when we recut the movie, they knew exactly what we had and how to use it.”

“We have the same sensibilities,” explained Slawitschka. “On long form projects we take a feature in tandem, maybe split it in half, or in reels. Or, on a TV series, each of us takes a few episodes, compare notes, and arrive at a ‘group mind,’ our language of how a project is working. On St. Agatha, Patrick and I took a bit of a risk and generated a four-page document of proposed thoughts and changes. Some very macro, some very micro.” 

“They were able to elevate the cut we already had, proving to us they are the best in town,” said Sara Michaels. As for infrastructure, “I’ve suggested them to a lot of people, not only for indies, but for bigger projects. They have the experience to handle bigger budget movies.” 

Colorist John Peterson, partner at Moonshine Post, worked closely with the director on final color.  “From day one, the first looks we got from camera raw were beautiful.” Typically, projects shot in Atlanta ship back to a post house in a bigger city, “and maybe you see it and maybe you don’t. This one became a local win, we processed dailies, and it came back to us for a chance to finish it here,” said Peterson. 

On working with Bousman, Peterson related, “I enjoyed having him in session because he’s an artist. He knew what he was looking for. On the flashbacks, we played with a variety of looks to define which one we liked. We added a certain amount of film grain, and stylistically, for some scenes, we used heavy vignetting, and heavy keys with isolation windows. Darren is a director, but he also knows the terminology, which gave me the opportunity to take his words and put it on the screen for him. At the end of the week, we had a successful film.” 

The recent expansion of Moonshine Post, which included a partnership with the audio company Bare Knuckles and a visual effects company Crafty Apes, “was necessary, so we could take on the kind of movies and series we wanted to work with,” explained Sawyer. “But we were very careful about what we took and how we expanded.” They recently secured two AMC series, along with projects from Netflix. “We are not trying to do all the post in town, but we want to foster and grow the postproduction scene here so that we can continue to win people’s trust and solidify the Atlanta market.” 

Seth Michaels agreed.  “I have seen the quality grow and that reflects the type of jobs they are getting. Companies are choosing to stay in Atlanta, which speaks to the growth and quality of what Atlanta can do. From a producer’s standpoint, if I can get the same quality here as anywhere else, I would stay here.” 

St. Agatha is available in theaters and On Demand from Uncork’d Entertainment. It can be found on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Vudu, Fandango Now, Xbox, Dish Network and local cable providers.

  • Thursday, Mar. 7, 2019
Outpost VFX opens Montreal studio
Outpost VFX Montreal

Outpost VFX, headquartered in Bournemouth, U.K., has extended its reach, launching its first international studio in Montréal, Canada, built to service clients in the film, high-end TV and creative sectors.

“With its generous film tax relief system, supportive government and incredible visual effects talent base, Montréal leapt out at us as the most exciting location for our first overseas studio,” explained Duncan Williams, founder and CEO of Outpost VFX. After more than 12 months of careful planning it’s fantastic to finally realise our goal of opening a facility in Canada.”

In addition, the Outpost team will be better positioned to service clients across multiple time zones and intends to use this opportunity to open avenues for talent sharing between the U.K. and Canada.

Alongside the expansion into Canada, experienced VFX producer Becca Scott has joined Outpost as head of production for North America and is heading up the new studio in Montréal.

Joining Scott in Montréal is VFX supervisor James Rustad. A seasoned creative lead with extensive experience at the highest levels of creature work, Rustad was most recently at Double Negative. Some of his most well-known supervisory roles were on Wonder Woman and The Revenant, and he helped bring many iconic creatures to life for the Harry Potter series as an artist.

“With the wealth of exciting talent in Montréal we will be able to develop our ambitions even further, strengthening the great work already being done at Outpost in the U.K.,” said Gez Hixson, global head of production.

Outpost will be operating from a 6,000 square-foot facility in Montreal. Its U.K. studio has expanded to a capacity of 150 employees occupying a state of the art, 10,000 square foot facility.

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