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November 30, 2019

Apple’s Movie Launch Became a PR Disaster, and One That’s Not Easy to Prevent

When it came to planning its first major theatrical release, Apple pulled out all the stops for “The Banker.” Starring Anthony Mackie and Samuel L. Jackson in the true story of two African American bankers who thwarted the racial limitations of the 1950s, the tech company earmarked the film for an awards campaign and landed a November 21 premiere as AFI Fest’s closing-night selection.

And then, Apple yanked it from AFI November 20, citing the need to look at unspecified concerns with the film. A few days later, Apple delayed its scheduled December 6 theatrical release. The reason: Mackie portrays Bernard Garrett and Garrett’s daughter, Cynthia Garrett, leveled sexual abuse allegations against Bernard Garrett, Jr., her half brother and the film’s co-producer, while also arguing that film’s narrative was inaccurate.

The fallout has been intense. Bernard Garrett, Jr. has since removed his name from the credits. He denied the allegations in a November 25 statement to Deadline, and on November 26 Cynthia Garrett responded with her own statement detailing the accusations. “It seems the legal representatives on this film want to position themselves as defending the actions of a child molester,” she wrote. “It shows what we have seen from them the whole time — an exploitative orientation of our family.”

“The Banker” would be a PR disaster for any distributor, but particularly for a film meant to launch a major division of a multinational corporation that obsessively guards its reputation as a maker of family-friendly, must-have products. How could this have happened? (Apple declined comment for this article. Producer Romulus Entertainment did not return a request for comment.)

It’s easy to point fingers. Why didn’t the producers reach out to more members of the Garrett family? Didn’t someone at Apple read Cynthia Garrett’s 2016 book “Prodigal Daughter: A Journey Home To Identity,” where she discusses the allegations? What about E&O (errors and omissions) insurance?

The truth is, even in hindsight, the conflict that Cynthia Garrett alleges in her family makes it hard to imagine a path that would have allowed this film to be produced and released without controversy. While this may be an extreme case, all true-life stories carry inherent risk that’s almost impossible to entirely mitigate — even with E&O coverage.

“If you do a background check on each individual, you can find out if they’ve committed crimes, if they’ve gone bankrupt, but you wouldn’t be able to know about things that haven’t come out yet. That’s going to be very, very difficult for somebody to anticipate, even if you do a really thorough job,” said Chris L. Perez, a partner at Donaldson + Callif. “There’s always going to be things that you can’t anticipate.”

Trying to shoehorn a life into a three-act structure is tricky at best, and buying life rights can introduce as many issues as it resolves. While it gives legal access to the subject’s perspective, it doesn’t address the perspectives of others who shared the experience. And legally, it doesn’t have to. “Based on a true story” gives a lot of leeway to modify timelines, fabricate dialogue, and create scenarios in the aim of telling a story that’s protected under the First Amendment, provided the film causes no harm to living people.

A cached version of Apple’s press site for the movie from last week describes the film as “inspired by a true story.” The current version of the site says the film is “inspired by true events,” while the poster says it’s “based on a true story.”

“When you’re making something based on real-life people, there’s not a lot of legal recourse that the subjects of the show have,” said Steven J. Peña, a former legal affairs VP at 20th Century Fox. “That doesn’t prevent people from filing lawsuits, raising issues, or putting out press releases.”

Sometimes, the filmmakers might chalk that up to an annoyance, like this year’s back-and-forth between Quentin Tarantino and Bruce Lee’s daughter Shannon Lee over the filmmaker’s unflattering portrayal of the martial-arts legend in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.”

Other circumstances can completely derail a project, as with “The Birth of a Nation,” which was the priciest Sundance buy in history when Fox Searchlight acquired it at the 2016 festival for $17.5 million. The problem didn’t lie with the film’s hero, slave rebellion leader Nat Turner; it was writer-director Nate Parker and co-writer Jean Celestin’s sexual assault trial 15 years earlier, which went unnoticed until it made headlines after Sundance. Though Parker was acquitted and Celestin’s conviction overturned, their accuser committed suicide over a decade after the incident. All told, it was a scandal from which the film couldn’t recover.

Others fall somewhere in the middle, such as Norman Jewison’s “The Hurricane.” Universal’s 1999 biopic of Rubin “The Hurricane” Carter, a former boxer whose triple-murder conviction was overturned, earned star Denzel Washington an Oscar nomination, but questions about the film’s accuracy have dominated its legacy.

Where “The Banker” lies on the spectrum remains to be seen, but the stakes are high for an elite company that hoped to establish a Hollywood brand and now finds itself embroiled in a controversy that evokes the worst aspects of MeToo.

The film went into production in fall 2018, and Apple announced its purchase in July 2019. With its story of real-life figures subverting racist culture, “The Banker” looked like it could be a bedrock for the Apple brand. In the announcement that Apple would pull the film from AFI, the company said: “We purchased ‘The Banker’ earlier this year as we were moved by the film’s entertaining and educational story about social change and financial literacy.”

It’s unclear how much Apple paid for the movie, but sources say it bought the film after viewing less than 10 minutes of footage. According to Nolfi, who discussed the film at IndieWire’s November 5 Consider This FYC Brunch, the budget was about $11 million. He added that after the acquisition, Apple put up additional monies for Nolfi to shoot an additional day at his most expensive location, a stand-in for the US Capitol building.

Bernard Garrett Jr, Niceole R. Levy and George NolfiIndieWire 'Consider This' FYC Brunch, Los Angeles, USA - 05 Nov 2019

Bernard Garrett, Jr., screenwriter Niceole R. Levy, and writer-director George Nolfi at the IndieWire ‘Consider This’ FYC Brunch, November 5, 2019

John Salangsang/IndieWire/Shutterstock

As for E&O insurance, it’s an essential backstop to protect filmmakers against legal challenges that might arise from negligence — but for the issues facing “The Banker,” it may not apply.

There are two sets of controversies: One is Cynthia Garrett’s frustration over how the story was told. She told IndieWire that she found out about the movie’s production at the start of 2019 and hoped the producers would reach out to her. She said no one contacted her about the film but after the trailer dropped November 4, she had her attorney contact Apple.

“We hoped we could discuss this privately with them and navigate what to do,” she wrote to IndieWire over email. “We wanted nothing financial. We just wanted to be heard in the hopes they could figure out a way to correct this mess and stop our abuser from profiting and clearly deceiving them and others. After days thinking they would meet — they then refused to meet. We were devastated.”

However, neither Cynthia Garrett or Bernard Garrett’s second wife, Cynthia’s mother, are portrayed in the film, and their absence may fall under the catchall of being “based on” or “inspired by” real life.

“When you have a movie and you leave people out, there’s no red flag because they’re not in the script,” said attorney Mark Litwak, who serves as production counsel and has written several books on entertainment law. “It doesn’t necessarily violate their rights.”

The second and more disturbing challenge, stemming from the allegation that Bernard Garrett, Jr. sexually abused her, doesn’t have direct connection to the film itself. As such, it’s not something that would arise in vetting the film’s story — but presumably it’s a claim that the producers and Apple would have wanted to know.

Ultimately, filmmakers can’t be entirely certain that vetting captures all contingencies. Independent films, which may be armed by little more than a producer with a checklist, can be more vulnerable than studio films with swarms of expensive lawyers who meticulously root out risk scenarios.

“If you limit your review to a strictly E&O review, in the sense that you’re looking for any kind of viable trademark, copyright, or rights claim, something like this might get missed,” Perez said.

At the IndieWire FYC event, Garrett Jr. said his dad was adamant about his story being told. “He wanted black people to see that there’s motivation stories out there that haven’t even been told yet,” he said.

Nolfi added that the first script was written by two friends of Garrett, Jr., whom he did not name. (Cynthia Garrett denies the existence of such a script, saying that her father only penned a book for her and her siblings.) According to Nolfi, Joel Viertel, who edited and produced the film, got his hands on a copy about 20 years ago, and pitched it to Mackie and Nolfi in 2009 on the set of the director’s 2011 “The Adjustment Bureau.” (Mackie was unavailable for comment. Viertel did not respond to a request for comment.)

“Bernard and Joe [Morris, portrayed by Jackson] had to essentially dress as chauffeurs and janitors in their own banks, essentially to be able to monitor things. It was an incredible story,” Nolfi said at the event. “I was like, ‘Look, I’ll do anything to get this made.’” Levy (Marvel TV’s “Cloak & Dagger”) and Nolfi are the credited screenwriters, with “Lodge 49” co-executive producer Brad Kane receiving story credit and David Lewis Smith and Stan Younger as additional writers.

Ultimately, the only real failsafe for avoiding all true-story complications is if absolutely everyone attached to the subject is dead. Beyond that, however, producers must decide: Do they want to involve a minimum of people, limiting the cost and the possibility of script interference, while risking conflict upon release? Or, they could spend the money to get life rights and cooperation from as many people as possible, which then introduces the very real possibility of power struggles and legal battles if family members won’t come to terms.

“The one thing no writer wants to hear is, ‘No, you need to tell this story,’” said awards publicist Tony Angellotti, who has worked on multiple true-life films including “Frost/Nixon,” “Cinderella Man,” “Erin Brockovich,” and “Green Book.” “A biographer interviews everyone, but ultimately it’s their opinion.”

Dana Harris-Bridson contributed to this report.

Source: IndieWire film

November 30, 2019

Martin Scorsese Says ‘The Irishman’ Would Never Work as a TV Show: ‘Absolutely No’

Now that Martin Scorsese’s over-three-hour-long mafia epic “The Irishman” is streaming on Netflix, it’s easy to watch the movie in chunks as if it were a TV series, pausing occasionally to attend to whatever the next distraction is. However, this is not how Scorsese wants you to see his movie. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, the Academy Award-winning director firmly denounced the idea of “The Irishman” ever being a TV show parceled out episodically.

“You could say, ‘This is a long story, you can play it out over two seasons.’ I saw somebody mention that. Absolutely no,” he said. “I’ve never even thought of it. Because the point of this picture is the accumulation of detail. It’s an accumulated cumulative effect by the end of the movie — which means you get to see from beginning to end [in one sitting] if you’re so inclined. A series is great. It’s wonderful. You can develop character and plot lines and worlds are recreated, but this wasn’t right for that.”

Scorsese also added that the movie’s ambiguous, unsettling ending would never have been green-lit by a traditional studio — and with a budget of more than $140 million, partly accounting for the movie’s costly de-aging visual effects, Netflix gave the director total creative control. “A man in a wheelchair at the end? No. Yeah. Not gonna happen. [A traditional studio is] geared toward the most amount of money you can make — understandably. I think it’s gone askew,” Scorsese said.

Indeed, the movie is a slow burn that builds toward a devastating finale that finds Robert De Niro’s Frank Sheeran at the end of his tether, trying to make peace with his mistakes. But by the time he does, it’s too late, and no one wants to hear it. It is ultimately about loneliness and loss and the things you regret but have to live with, and to watch the movie across many hours would detract from its accumulative power. Scorsese’s explanation of Anna Paquin’s almost-silent role as Sheeran’s daughter, and the witness to all his wrongdoing, offers a good rationale to digest the movie as intended.

However, if you’re so inclined to consume “The Irishman” as a miniseries, Twitter’s Alexander Dunerfors has put together a guide to watch the movie across breaks. See below.


Source: IndieWire film

November 30, 2019

From ‘Queen & Slim’ to ‘Knives Out,’ Women and Original Films Rule at the Holiday Box Office

This shouldn’t be noteworthy, but it is: There are three women directors in the top 10 at the box office. “Frozen 2,” directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee; “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” directed by Marielle Heller; and “Queen & Slim,” directed by Melina Matsoukas.

Even better: “Queen & Slim” is an original film (with a screenplay by Lena Waithe), as is Rian Johnson’s Agatha Christie-inspired murder mystery “Knives Out.” Each of these films is buoyed by strong reviews and positive Cinemascores, and all will factor into Oscar season, which means they should expect to enjoy continued play through the end of the year and into next.

The top spot for the weekend will no doubt go to “Frozen 2” which, at more than $200 million domestic, makes it Disney Animation Studios’ most successful franchise since “The Lion King.”

On the other end of the spectrum, “Knives Out” and “Queen & Slim” will both sit comfortably in the top five, and studios should take note: Audiences want edgy, unique narratives that offer more than the corporate-product cash grab of a sequel.

It’s been a stellar year overall for women directors at the box office, from Kasi Lemmons with the biopic “Harriet” and Lorene Scafaria with stripper drama “Hustlers,” to co-director Anna Fleck’s MCU tentpole “Captain Marvel” and Olivia Wilde’s smart indie “Booksmart,” an over-the-summer release that is returning to the fray amid the awards season.

While Elizabeth Banks’ reboot “Charlie’s Angels,” starring Kristen Stewart, is barely hanging on, (it was unceremoniously dumped out of the top 10 after one week of release), actor-turned-director Banks is rebounding with her followup film, the horror movie “The Invisible Woman,” for Universal Pictures. She will also star in that film, which is based on legacy Universal IP and penned by “The Girl on the Train” scribe Erin Cressida Wilson.

Meanwhile at the box office, the November 27 arrival of Martin Scorsese’s devastating gangster epic “The Irishman” on Netflix hasn’t kept audiences out of theaters. The film is still playing theatrically on the heels of a run that found sold-out showings across New York and Los Angeles.

Read IndieWire’s full Thanksgiving box office report so far here.

Additional reporting by Tom Brueggemann.

Source: IndieWire film

November 30, 2019

Save hundreds with these PlayStation VR and PS4 console Black Friday deals

You can currently buy a PlayStation VR Mega Pack bundle for just $200, giving you the headset, camera, and five of the best games available on the headset. Paired with a $200 PS4, it’s an absolute steal.
Source: Digital Trends VR

November 29, 2019

Accusonus Uses AI to Make Quick Work of Bad Audio

Accusonus is making audio repair easy for sound and video people using machine learning.

I do not consider myself a sound editor or an audio expert, but as a picture editor, I understand the importance of good sound throughout the edit. Bad sound makes a good picture edit look less good, so cleaning up your audio in the offline edit is extremely important.

Hopefully, you record great sound for your videos and podcasts or are working with people who understand the importance of great sound and will prioritize it on set. That is what I wish for all film, video, and podcast-makers, but alas we are often given poorly recorded sound to work with. That’s where Accusonus can help.

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Source: NoFilmSchool

November 29, 2019

Unlocking the Secrets to Micro-Budget Filmmaking

Indie filmmaker Noam Kroll has incredible advice for making a low-budget feature from start to finish.

Noam Kroll has worked on almost every side of film projects, including as a colorist, editor, writer, cinematographer, director, and more. His latest feature film, Psychosynthesis, was shot on an extremely low budget in just nine days.

Kroll took some time to answer our questions about how he approached the feature, maintained control of his limited budget, and achieved the film’s gorgeous visuals. He shares what he learned on the quick shoot, and what he’d do differently. He also talks about the importance of self-marketing and his VOD plans.

Any filmmaker wanting to take on an ambitious project with a limited timeframe and budget and still achieve a polished look can benefit from Kroll’s insight.

Let’s get to the advice!

NFS: Can you tell us about your development process on Psychosynthesis?

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Source: NoFilmSchool

November 29, 2019

Agnés Varda's Film School: How to Raise Money for Impossible Films

Rosalie Varda, producer of Varda By Agnés, shares secrets from her mother’s storied career.

“I did things that weren’t done,” says the late Agnés Varda, speaking to an audience of film students in Agnés By Varda. This is Varda in a nutshell: no-nonsense, inimitable, and chock-full of filmmaking advice. The French New Wave auteur, who died at the age of 90 this year, spent the last five years of her life imparting wisdom on a new generation of filmmakers in masterclasses around the world.

Agnés By Varda, her final film, was inspired by these classes—or, as Varda preferred to call them, “filmmaking chats.” Varda’s daughter and long-time producer, Rosalie, thought that the world deserved to benefit from her mother’s insights on creativity and cinema. Varda By Agnés is the director’s final bow, and it’s one of the most enjoyable films of her prolific career.

“Agnés had been through all the technology since 1949. After she bought her first digital camera, everything changed.”

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Source: NoFilmSchool

November 29, 2019

‘Scandalous’ Explores the National Enquirer’s ‘Catch and Kill’ Policy

The National Enquirer has been a supermarket staple for decades. In “Scandalous: The Untold Story of the National Enquirer,” director Mark Landsman explores the paper’s beginnings as an allegedly mafia-funded enterprise into a gory murder rag, then its evolution into a sensational tabloid covering all things sex and scandal.

Landsman first became interested in the paper after having dinner with a friend’s father who worked at The National Enquirer in the 1970s and hearing his wild stories of its heyday.

“His stories were incredible,” Landsman said following a screening of his film at the International Documentary Association’s annual screening series in Los Angeles. “He’s a phenomenal raconteur. And as he kept talking about the tactics that they employed and the sort of blurred lines of ethics, I began to get really intrigued.”

With the help of the aforementioned family friend, Landsman contacted dozens of former employees, some of whom eventually agreed to be interviewed about the work they did at the tabloid and some of the unconventional and ethically questionable methods they used to chase stories. (Those methods allegedly included accepting hush money payments to acquire potentially damaging stories about public figures — like Donald Trump — and squash their release in a practice known as “catch and kill.”)

“The people who who are on the screen are people who were actually willing to tell their story and wanting to tell their story,” Landsman said. “It was really fascinating those who were still under NDAs that were willing to participate. In the case of Jerry George, who unfortunately passed away a couple of months ago, he was a very brave person. Jerry was actually the first person to go on national television and talk about this whole issue of whether or not there was a safe and what was in that safe in the various offices in the Enquirer. Jerry was very forthcoming in talking about catch and kill, his role in catch and kill, and I said to him, ‘Jerry, aren’t you worried? Don’t you have an agreement that you signed?’ And he said, ‘You know, I’m a substitute teacher and I drive a cab. So what are they gonna do?’”

Tony Brenna, a former National Enquirer reporter interviewed in the film, said that the stories he reported for the paper were all true, but they were pushed to the brink of what could be consider the truth, sensationalizing details to make them more salacious.

“There were a number of different stories that we took different approaches to. Some stories were absolutely 100 percent true. Other stories were pushed, as we used to call it, and the editors would push us to sensationalize the story a lot more than it actually was,” he explained. “I’m sorry to say on many occasions, I did that. It was a strange place for me to work because I had come from the London Daily Telegraph. I was their United Nations correspondent, I was also BBC reporter as well. And suddenly being [funneled] into scandal journalism was quite a change of pace.”

Brenna and the rest of the Enquirer staffers interviewed in the film reminisced about the halcyon days of unlimited expense accounts and lavish travel in what they called the best job in the world.

“We were very, very well paid — three times the salary of journalists at other newspapers. My average year I would be going to Russia, I’d go to the Philippines, I’d go to back to Europe. There was no limit to the stories that we were able to do. I had never worked for a newspaper that was so free with cash and expenses,” he said. “And we all had a great time. I mean, we went all over the world and lived it up. So it was a lot of fun.”

In addition to the employees, Landsman spoke with journalists from The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, and more — making for a lot of footage to work with.

“Our average interview was like four hours long, some went as long as six. In many cases with some, some of the people we interviewed twice. So you’re talking about 10, 12 hours of material — a lot of time,” Landsman said. “With some people, like Ian Calder, it was sort of like an Aikido match where you’re sitting there with him and just kind of smoking him out until he would talk. With others it was just a lot more fluid and easier.”

“Checkbook journalism, yellow journalism, this is not something that the National Enquirer invented — William Randolph Hearst, I mean, we can go all the way back. People who owned whatever media existed at the time did it because they had power and influence and they used that influence for political reasons, for business reasons. And still do. Why did Jeff Bezos buy the Washington Post? I mean, you should ask yourself that question,” said former Enquirer staffer Judith Regan. “And if you think that most corporate-owned media organizations are not corrupt in some way, then you’re just fooling yourself. Look at Fox News. I mean, Rupert Murdoch has a long tradition of basically buying political influence to get what he wants and to do what he wants. This is this is nothing new. This has been going on for a really long time. And now I’d say what everyone should really be looking at is places like Facebook. Facebook has 45 million Americans who get their news from Facebook. And Mark Zuckerberg has said he doesn’t care if the political ads are fake, absolutely fake. That’s where the real propaganda has gone now, and smearing and lies and fabrications. That’s where it exists now.”

That link is what interested Landsman in the Enquirer in the first place.

“What was really intriguing to us about the Enquirer, of all these different things that Judith is talking about, was that really it was this template for the blurring of lines. And that is what’s really fascinating about it, that here’s this publication that at any given time in America 25 million people were reading and talking about it. It was really the first form of viral media in our modern era,” he said. “It gets very complicated in the mid ’90s when they’re doing reporting that is getting legitimized by people like David Merkel in the New York Times saying that the Enquirer should be required reading in the OJ Simpson case and Steve Coz is one of the 25 most influential Americans on the cover of Time Magazine, and you’re getting this confusing message because in the same paper that has legitimate reportage about Bruno Magli shoes [a story the Enquirer famously broke during the Simpson trial] are articles that are less legitimate.”

He continued, “It’s the concern that people don’t know the difference. So what do you do when you don’t know the difference? And what kind of impact does that have on people’s understanding about what is factual what is not? That was the real question we were asking ourselves: What kind of impact did this particular publication have on people’s perception of journalism in America?”


The IDA Documentary Screening Series brings some of the year’s most acclaimed documentary films to the IDA community and members of industry guilds and organizations. Films selected for the Series receive exclusive access to an audience of tastemakers and doc lovers during the important Awards campaigning season from September through November. For more information about the series, and a complete schedule, visit IDA.

Source: IndieWire film

November 29, 2019

The Best Black Friday virtual reality headset deals in 2019

With Black Friday sales going live now, there has never been a better time to jump into the world of virtual reality — and we’ve already gathered up the best Black Friday VR headset deals right here.
Source: Digital Trends VR

November 27, 2019

Rodrigo Prieto Tells Us Everything We Want to Know About How They Shot 'The Irishman'

The celebrated DP takes us deep behind the scenes of Scorsese’s mob epic.

Truly old-school auteurs weren’t huge fans of a moving camera. They might glue their camera still for no better reason than a novice might throw theirs out a window. Martin Scorsese never neglected the vocabulary movement granted him. As more tools presented themselves, he tried them, but always made sure they spoke.

For The Irishman, Netflix financing afforded Scorsese new tools like the “Three-Headed Monster”, the three-in-one-camera rig that allowed him to digitally “de-age” his old collaborators Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and, for the first time, Al Pacino, in a century-plus account of the murder of Teamster leader Jimmy Hoffa.

This Frankenstein system consisted of two “witness cameras” that captured an Infrared map of the actors’ faces for the VFX team rigged to a third primary capture camera.

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Source: NoFilmSchool