Sunday, November 18, 2018

News Briefs

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  • Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2018
Netflix's 3Q subscriber growth gets rave reviews on Wall St.
This March 19, 2018, file photo shows the Netflix app on an iPad in Baltimore. Netflix, Inc. reports earnings Tuesday, Oct. 16. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

Netflix regained its stride with surprisingly strong subscriber growth in the third quarter, after an unexpected springtime stumble triggered fears that it was losing its allure.

The video-streaming service added 7 million subscribers worldwide from July through September, far above the company's target of 5 million and exceeding analyst projections.

Netflix fell well shy of its subscriber goals for the April-to-June period, raising fears that fiercer competition from Amazon, Hulu, HBO and other streaming services was siphoning away viewers.

In a show of confidence, Netflix predicted it will pick up another 9.4 million subscribers during the current quarter ending in December — traditionally one of the company's busiest times because of all the subscriptions given as holiday gifts. Even so, the forecast calls for 1.1 million more subscribers than Netflix gained in the same period last year.

Netflix ended September with 137 million worldwide subscribers, including 58.5 million in the U.S.

"Netflix's strong quarter will at least temporarily put to rest questions over the long-term viability of its business," said eMarketer analyst Paul Verna.

Investors lifted Netflix's stock by more than 11 percent to $386.30 in extended trading. The stock still remains below its record high of $423.21 in June, just before the subscriber-growth scare Netflix announced in July.

Subscriber growth has always been more important to investor perceptions of Netflix than its relatively small profits. Investors are counting on Netflix to grow quickly in order to gain an insurmountable advantage over streaming rivals in an increasingly crowded market.

In an effort to be more precise and reduce the volatility in its stock, Netflix plans to exclude people on free trials of its service from its subscriber numbers. In a letter to shareholders Tuesday, Netflix said it believes paid subscribers now are a more stable indicator of how well the service is doing.

"I'm afraid the (second quarter-to-third quarter) story is probably mostly an issue of forecasting as opposed to anything changing in the business," Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said during comments broadcast in an online video.

On the financial front, Netflix earned $403 million on revenue of $4 billion in the quarter. But the company continued to burn through cash to pay for its programming, which includes a critically acclaimed selection of shows such as "Stranger Things," ''Orange Is The New Black," and "Ozark."

In a coup, Netflix shows won 23 Emmys in last month's awards ceremony, tying HBO for the most among all TV networks.

The laurels are proving expensive. Netflix had a negative cash flow of $859 million in the third quarter, nearly doubling from a negative cash flow of $465 million last year. The trend raises the possibility that Netflix might need to borrow money to pay its bills, something that is getting more expensive to do as interest rates rise.

  • Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2018
Book Review: "Anything You Can Imagine" recounts Peter Jackson's quest to film Tolkien
This cover image released by HarperCollins shows "Anything You Can Imagine: Peter Jackson and the Making of Middle-earth” by Ian Nathan. (HarperCollins via AP)

"Anything You Can Imagine: Peter Jackson & the Making of Middle-earth" (HarperCollins), by Ian Nathan

Reaching the final sentence in film writer Ian Nathan's 576-page exploration of movie director Peter Jackson's "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy requires the stoicism of Frodo and the vigor of Gandalf. So much detail lies along the way that even the eye of Sauron would need a shot of Visine to keep going.

That shouldn't put off fans of the films that, collectively, gained 30 Oscar nominations and 17 of the golden statuettes, including a Best Picture award for the finale, 2003's "The Return of the King." Oh, and they left behind a worldwide box office stuffed with a couple billion dollars, too.

Jackson's movies are a marvel of cinematic storytelling, likely to remain so because he came to understand that the special effects should be deployed not just to thrill but also to give emotional life to novelist J.R.R. Tolkien's world. (It's an epiphany that Jackson apparently forgot with the bloated "King Kong" and his overstretched LOTR follow-up, "The Hobbit.")

In breezy and often cheeky prose, Nathan tells a grand story worthy of the annals of great filmmaking: A little-known New Zealand director wins over Hollywood moneymen to translate Tolkien to film, once thought to be an impossible task given the complexity of Tolkien's vision of a place called Middle-earth and the hobbits, wizards, dwarves, elves and others who inhabit it.

Tolkien himself shrugged off the idea of a movie version in the late 1950s. A decade later, in 1967, his books enormously popular on college campuses, the aged Oxford professor accepted 104,000 British pounds for the film rights in (gasp!) perpetuity. In hindsight, it's enough to make an orc cry.

For decades, however, Tolkien's folly appeared to be a good deal as one effort after another failed and the rights became a cinematic albatross. The most fanciful idea may have come from the Beatles, who asked "2001" director Stanley Kubrick to join them in presenting a music-infused version with Paul as Frodo, George as Gandalf, John as Gollum and Ringo as Sam (so reports Jackson after a chat with McCartney).

The hero of the quest to film "The Lord of the Rings" is Jackson, but he doesn't set out alone. From co-screenwriters and producers to special-effects masters and illustrators, those in the fellowship he assembled matched his enthusiasm for the years it took to complete the trilogy. Nathan wisely explores and celebrates their unique contributions, not just those of actors Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen and other more easily identifiable participants. A chapter on movie music master Howard Shore is particularly welcome for explaining the usually overlooked composition of film scores.

Nathan also takes a Helm's Deep dive into the films' best creations, their characters as well as their sequences. The wretched creature Gollum became perhaps the first truly realistic CGI character in the movies, thanks to actor Andy Serkis' voice and motion-capture performance and the army of artists that created nearly 700 sculpted expressions and some 9,000 muscle shapes to bring Gollum to life.

In this age of the director's extended cut, a flagging reader could be excused for wishing for a downsized edition of "Anything You Can Imagine." Yet there is much to learn, to chuckle over and to admire as Jackson and his band of indefatigable Kiwis face down the naysayers.

Douglass K. Daniel is the author of "Anne Bancroft: A Life" (University Press of Kentucky).

  • Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2018
Facebook requires UK political ad buyers to reveal identity
In this June 7, 2013, file photo, the Facebook "like" symbol is on display on a sign outside the company's headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif. Facebook says it has purged more than 800 U.S. pages and accounts for spamming users with garbage links and clickbait. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)

Facebook says that anyone who takes out a British political ad on the social media platform will now be forced to reveal their identity, in a bid to increase transparency and curb misinformation.

The company said Tuesday that it will also require disclaimers for any British political advertisements. All the data on the ad buyers will be archived for seven years in a publicly accessible database.

Facebook is already applying a similar system in the United States, which is holding midterm elections this year, and Brazil, which held a general vote this month.

British lawmakers have called for greater oversight of social media companies and election campaigns to protect democracy in the digital age.

A House of Commons report this year said democracy is facing a crisis because data analysis and social media allow campaigns to target voters with messages of hate without their consent.

"While the vast majority of ads on Facebook are run by legitimate organizations, we know that there are bad actors that try to misuse our platform," Facebook said in a statement. "By having people verify who they are, we believe it will help prevent abuse."

Facebook said it's up against "smart and well-funded adversaries who change their tactics as we spot abuse," but it believes that increased transparency is good for democracy and the electoral process.

  • Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2018
Ann Curry to host TV show to solve medical mysteries
In this July 17, 2017 file photo, journalist Ann Curry attends a special screening of "An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth To Power" in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)

Ann Curry is getting into the business of medical crowdsourcing on television.

The former "Today" show anchor has agreed to anchor a Turner series that describes people with mysterious medical ailments, in the hope of reaching doctors or patients who have seen something similar and gotten help.

Curry said Monday that she hoped real good can come from the series, tentatively titled "M.D. Live."

TNT will air 10 episodes of the series sometime next year, each of them two hours.

  • Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2018
U.S. government wants drug prices in TV ads
In this Sept. 12, 2018, file photo Health & Human Services Secretary Alex Azar speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in New York. In a move announced Monday, Oct. 14, by the industry's largest trade group dozens of drugmakers will start disclosing the prices for U.S. prescription drugs advertised on TV. Azar responded that the industry's announcement is a "small step in the right direction" but the government's plan "will go further." (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) -- 

The federal government said Monday that it wants to force drugmakers to disclose prices for prescription medicines in their TV commercials.

The drug industry's main trade group said drug companies are only willing to disclose the prices on their websites, not in commercials, and they'll start doing that next spring.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar unveiled a proposal that would apply to all brand-name drugs covered by the Medicare and Medicaid programs, which is most medicines.

"Patients deserve to know what a given drug could cost when they're being told about the benefits and risks it may have," Azar said in prepared remarks. "They deserve to know if the drug company has pushed their prices to abusive levels. And they deserve to know this every time they see a drug advertised to them on TV."

Most Americans don't pay the full price for prescriptions — one reason drugmakers have opposed disclosing the list prices, arguing that would just confuse the public. But insurance plans base their copayments on the list price set by drugmakers. And patients with high-deductibles plans or no insurance sometimes pay full price.

President Trump has long promised to bring down drug prices, and in May, his administration released a "blueprint" with vague proposals for doing so, including exploring listing prices in TV commercials.

Hours before Azar's announcement, the trade group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, known as PhRMA, said its 33 member companies agreed to include in commercials a website that would give the drug's list price, the range of likely out-of-pocket costs and any available financial assistance. The group also plans its own website, where patients could look up drugs by name and find similar information.

"We appreciate their effort," Azar said. "But placing information on a website is not the same as putting it right in an ad."

PhRMA CEO Stephen J. Ubl and others in the trade group said they believe requiring list prices in ads would violate the companies' First Amendment free speech rights. But Azar, speaking at a National Academy of Medicine conference, said there is precedence for such a move, pointing out that federal law requires automakers to disclose sticker prices for cars.

Direct-to-consumer advertising of drugs has been allowed in the U.S. for two decades. Ads are required to list side effects but not prices.

Many details of the proposed rule still must be worked out, including whether it should be expanded to cover radio, print or internet ads. According to the proposal, TV commercials would have to state in legible type the list price set by the manufacturer for all drugs costing more than $35 per month or for a standard course of treatment, such as for an antibiotic.

If the rule is adopted after a 60-day public comment period, Azar's department plans to publicize the names of drugmakers that don't comply and could take legal action against them.

Drugmakers generally can charge as much as the U.S. market will bear because the government doesn't regulate medicine prices, unlike most other developed countries.

List prices have long been closely guarded, and those prices are the starting point for drugmakers' price negotiations with middlemen, such as insurance companies and prescription benefit managers.

According to the government, the list prices for the top 10 prescription medicines advertised on TV range from $535 to $11,000 for a month or course of treatment.

Pfizer's heavily advertised nerve pain drug Lyrica has a monthly list price of $669. Humira, AbbVie's treatment for immune system disorders like rheumatoid arthritis, has a list price of $4,872 per monthly injection. Both have nearly doubled in four years.

Patients for Affordable Drugs, an advocacy group funded by foundations, called PhRMA's website choice "a transparent attempt to pre-empt full disclosure of list prices in ads," adding that it doesn't think disclosing list prices will reduce patients' costs.

  • Friday, Oct. 12, 2018
Crew member dies after fall on set of Mister Rogers movie
In this June 28, 1989, file photo, Fred Rogers rehearses for the opening of his PBS show "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" during a taping in Pittsburgh. Authorities say a crew member working on a movie about Mister Rogers has died after he suffered an apparent medical emergency and fell two stories off a balcony Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018, during a break in filming in western Pennsylvania. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

Authorities say a crew member working on a movie about Mister Rogers has died after he suffered an apparent medical emergency and fell two stories off a balcony in western Pennsylvania.

Allegheny County say James Emswiller fell around 7:30 p.m. Thursday during a break in filming. The 61-year-old Pittsburgh man died later at a hospital.

Emswiller was involved in the sound production of "You Are My Friend," which was shooting a scene in Mount Lebanon. The film is based on the life of Fred Rogers, the genial host of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood."

Mount Lebanon police say Emswiller fell over a brick wall on the balcony at an apartment building.

Film star Tom Hanks, who is playing Rogers in the movie, was at the site and later left.

  • Friday, Oct. 12, 2018
Film academy honors 19 student filmmakers
Animated film winner Hanna Kim prior to the 45th Annual Student Academy Awards® on Thursday, October 11, in Beverly Hills (photo by Richard Harbaugh/courtesy of AMPAS)
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (AP) -- 

Nineteen student filmmakers got the opportunity to "thank the academy" at the actual Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on Thursday night.

The winners of the 45th Student Academy Awards are eligible to compete for a 2018 Academy Award in the animated short, live action short and documentary short categories. They join an esteemed list of Student Academy Award alumni like Pete Docter, Cary Fukunaga, Spike Lee, Trey Parker, Patricia Riggen and Robert Zemeckis.

During the presentation in the storied Samuel L. Goldwyn theater, presenters like "The Big Sick" star and co-writer Kumail Nanjiani and "Twilight" director Catherine Hardwicke introduced a fascinating array of short films ranging in subject from an animated raccoon trying to handle a flashlight somewhat clumsily to a teenage girl who showcases a suicide confessional in her high school film class and a documentary about dust.

Seven hundred film academy members sifted through 1,582 entries from 400 schools (278 domestic and 122 international) to arrive at the final winners, who hail from locations including China, India, Switzerland, Mongolia and France. Categories recognized include narrative, documentary, animated and alternative productions by American and international college students.

Winners were given a few minutes onstage at the storied Samuel Goldwyn Theater, flanked by two larger-than-life Oscar statuettes to accept the award and give a speech, thanking the film academy, partners, and moms and dads.

"My mom gave me so many children's books for me to read," said Hanna Kim, who won the gold medal for animation for her short "Raccoon and the Light." ''Those books ended up being my main inspiration and reason for making this film."

Not all the winners were young adults. Mart Bira, who won the gold award for international documentary, noted that at 45, she is "the same age as the Student Academy Awards." Bira, who directed the short "Nomadic Doctor," said she was the first Mongolian filmmaker to receive the award, for which she was "truly honored."

The Student Academy Awards is a tradition dating back to 1972 to help spotlight emerging global talent in the entertainment industry. This past year, two winners went on to get Oscar nominations — Kevin Wilson Jr. for his live action short "My Nephew Emmett" and Katja Benrath for "Watu Wote/All of Us."

The 2018 Student Academy Award winners:

  • "Reanimated," Shae Demandt, Florida State University
  • "Daisy," Yu Yu, University of Southern California
  • "Raccoon and the Light," Hanna Kim, California Institute of the Arts
  • "Re-Gifted," Eaza Shukla, Ringling College of Art and Design
  • "The Green Bird," Pierre Perveyrie, Maximilien Bougeois, Marine Goalard, Irina Nguyen-Duc and Quentin Dubois, MOPA
  • "An Edited Life," Mathieu Faure, New York University
  • "Dust Rising," Lauren Schwartzman, University of California, Berkeley
  • "Love & Loss," Yiying Li, University of Southern California
  • "Nomadic Doctor," Mart Bira, University of Hertfordshire
  • "Esta Es Tu Cuba"/ "This Is Your Cuba," Brian Robau, Chapman University
  • "Lalo's House," Kelley Kali, University of Southern California
  • "Spring Flower," Hua Tong, University of Southern California
  • "A Siege," Istvan Kovacs, University of Theatre and Film Arts, Budapest
  • "Almost Everything," Lisa Gertsch, Zurich University of the Arts
  • "Get Ready with Me," Jonatan Etzler, Stockholm Academy of the Arts
  • Friday, Oct. 12, 2018
Risk of streaming fatigue as Walmart, AT&T, Disney join fray
In this Friday, Jan. 17, 2014, file photo, a person displays Netflix on a tablet in North Andover, Mass. Walmart, AT&T and Disney are joining stalwarts such as Netflix in streaming video and creating original shows. But a reality is setting in: Not all will survive. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola, File)

As Walmart, AT&T and Disney join stalwarts such as Netflix in streaming video and creating original shows, a reality sets in: Not all will survive.

Over the past week, Walmart announced plans to partner with MGM Studios on original shows for Walmart's video-on-demand service, Vudu, while AT&T's WarnerMedia said it would create its own streaming service centered on HBO and Turner properties. Disney, meanwhile, is buying Fox's entertainment businesses to beef up its planned streaming service , set to debut next year.

Add to that some existing, but little-known services, such as Filmstruck, Sundance Now, Mubi and others that offer older movies or niche offerings to subscribers.

These companies are trying to keep up with the changing tastes of consumers as they stream video on demand rather than rely on traditional cable subscriptions. But consumers have limited funds to spend; streaming behemoths like Netflix and Amazon got an early start and a lion's share of subscribers so far.

"Too many services (are) going after the same consumer and piece of the pie," Wedbush analyst Dan Ives said. "Streaming represents a significant market opportunity for the coming years but ultimately (streaming video) will have a few clear winners and a graveyard of those vendors that will fail."

In a way, the overabundance of streaming services echoes the proliferation of too many cable channels in the traditional cable model and the old complaint of "so many channels and nothing is on." Back then, cable companies forced you to get those channels and raised monthly fees regularly. Now the power is shifting to the consumer: if they don't want to watch something, they don't buy it.

The streaming market is growing, although at a slowing pace. EMarketer expects the number of people who use one or more video services in the U.S. to grow about 4 percent to 206 million by 2020. Google's YouTube and Netflix are the clear winners so far. YouTube has an estimated 191 million users and Netflix about 133 million, according to eMarketer. Amazon has been nipping at its heels, with an estimated 90 million.

Newer upstarts will face a tough battle to compete.

Each company is hoping its own exclusive content will pique viewers' interest. Walmart and MGM will debut an update on "Mr. Mom." WarnerMedia has HBO's arsenal of hit shows like "Game of Thrones." Disney has an endless stream of popular movies such as "Frozen" and the "Star Wars" and Marvel franchises. It's also planning original shows based on those franchises.

Companies risk extinction if they cannot create their own versions of "Must See TV" shows of the past, said Seth Shapiro, a professor at the University of Southern California's School of Cinematic Arts.

"How many things are people going to want to pay for at once? How many subscriptions can the market bear?" he said. Services "that are sort of nice to have but not really essential will fall by the wayside."

The contest has parallels to the DVD-by-mail competition more than a decade ago. In 2002, Walmart created its own online DVD rental service to compete with Netflix. But the retailer ended that in 2005 and transferred its customers to Netflix, signaling the world's largest retailer couldn't beat the internet upstart at its own game.

  • Friday, Oct. 12, 2018
Coogler to return as writer-director of "Black Panther 2"
In this Jan. 30, 2018 photo, filmmaker Ryan Coogler poses for a portrait at the "Black Panther" press junket at the Montage Beverly Hills in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP, File)

Ryan Coogler isn't leaving Wakanda: The filmmaker will write and direct the sequel to "Black Panther."

A person close to the production who requested anonymity because they weren't authorized to announce the deal confirmed Coogler's return to the Marvel franchise on Thursday. The Hollywood Reporter first reported Coogler's widely expected involvement in the "Black Panther" sequel.

Neither a start date nor a release date has yet been announced.

"Black Panther" earlier this year grossed more than $1.3 billion worldwide, including $700 million domestically — a new record for a Marvel release.

Coogler is also a producer on the upcoming "Creed 2," a sequel to the Coogler's 2015 Apollo Creed film.

  • Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018
Deluxe unveils Stage One for color grading
Deluxe's Stage One

Deluxe has unveiled its new color grading environment, Stage One. The expansive theater is equipped with top quality projection, including the world’s largest RealD Ultimate Screen® in a private facility, as well as advanced color grading, audio and editorial systems. Located in Deluxe Audio Seward at Hollywood’s historic Glen Glenn Sound building, the 4,000 square foot space features plush seating, perfect black levels, RealD and Stewart screens, Barco projectors, and advanced audio, among other amenities.

William Sherak, president Deluxe Post Production said that Stage One “represents Deluxe’s commitment to building the largest color and post operation in the world. The scale, the technology, and comfort give filmmakers an unparalleled experience in finishing their projects.”

“I’ve been dreaming of a space like Stage One since I started color finishing,” noted sr. colorist Skip Kimball, whose recent credits include ‘Deadpool 2’ at EFILM. “We’re set up to handle any format and have a fleet of projectors so I can grade on a screen that’s comparable to exhibition; it’s much easier to evaluate the picture and address any issues when you can see it on a 60-foot screen. And the size of Stage One is incredible; it can comfortably accommodate 120 people, so we can handle conform, color and VFX all in one space and with the director and cinematographer for a more streamlined process.”

Deluxe’s Stage One, which is already being used in production, features a RealD Ultimate Screen® with a 45’ x 21’7” maximum image and a Stewart Filmscreen SnoMatte 100 screen with 41’3” x 22’4” maximum image, and can accommodate the latest display monitors, allowing production to view content in whatever format is needed throughout production. The space is also equipped with two Christie Dolby Vision™ Eclipse laser projectors, capable of providing 108-nit brightness standard as well as high frame rate projection and 4K resolution; a Barco DP4K-P reference projector for theatrical grading at 48 nits in 4K resolution; and a Barco DP4k-32B projector for RealD stereo theatrical grading at up to 48 nits in 4K resolution. Available color grading and editorial systems include Blackmagic Resolve, Autodesk Lustre and Flame, and Filmlight Baselight.

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