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2010 – The Year in (moving) Pictures…

January 5th, 2011 No comments

Charles Dickens wrote in “A Tale of Two Cities” “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” but he might as well have been talking about the film year just passed. 2010 brought us pronounced Hollywood highs and lows, from the (continued) historic box-office success of 3-D juggernaut “Avatar” to the cringe-worthy release of “Sex and the City 2,” but perhaps the biggest story all year has been the public’s perceived paucity of quality entertainment coming from Hollywood. For every success like “Toy Story 3,” there were scads of expensive failures, from “The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader” or “The Sorceror’s Apprentice” to “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” (the latter two films being rare flops from mega-budget producer Jerry Bruckheimer). And then there was “The Last Airbender,” which offended fans of the series and struck out both artistically and at the box office, despite being 3-D retrofitted by Paramount.

But the news wasn’t all bad: there were big-budget successes (other than Fox’s “Avatar,” which made $477 domestically in 2010), like Tim Burton’s 3-D opus “Alice in Wonderland,” which earned Disney $334 million, as well as the think-piece of the year, Christopher Nolan’s “Inception,” which simultaneously thrilled and confounded audiences with its reality-bending storyline, pulling in $293 million domestically for Warner’s. Harry Potter made a return to America’s movie screens in “Harry Potter and the Deadly Hallows: Part 1” and pulled-in $273 million, but the film couldn’t be made into 3-D by its already-set release date, so Warner Brothers sacrificed B.O. bucks while gleaning praise by purists for not cutting corners. Unfortunately, the same couldn’t be said for Warner’s “Clash of the Titans,” which, like ‘Airbender,’ retrofitted itself to 3-D, with predictably bad artistic results (although being the first at the trough helps, since ‘Titans’ made over $163 million domestically).

But when the Motion Picture Academy announces its Oscar nominees on January 25, 2011, don’t expect to hear too many of these films being mentioned. For starters, “Avatar” was a 2009 release, and it did OK at the 2010 Oscars, but James Cameron’s ex-wife Kathryn Bigelow walked away with the statuettes for Best Picture and Best Director for “The Hurt Locker,” and that film also won for Mark Boal’s original screenplay. This year it’s about critically acclaimed movies (think  either low-budget or so-so box office), like The Weinstein Company’s “The King’s Speech,” whose ad campaigns seem eerily reminiscent of “Shine,” probably because of star Geoffrey Rush, or Sony’s David Fincher-directed, Aaron Sorkin-scripted “The Social Network,” which packs so much dialogue into its two hour running-time that the shooting script was 180 pages long. Another  potential nominee is Danny Boyle’s ultra-intense “127 Hours,” but after his manic “Slumdog Millionaire,” it’s doubtful he’d win again so soon, but James Franco seems a lock for a Best Actor nomination. While you’re at it, add “Black Swan” and Natalie Portman to the list, as well as Lisa Chodolenko’s “The Kids are All Right,” which seems destined to earn a few acting nominations for its stars. David O. Russell’s “The Fighter” falls into this group of critically-lauded but low-performing films.

One of the year’s best reviewed films is also its longest and hardest to find. “Carlos,” a 5 1/2 hour epic by Olivier Assayas about the international terrorist known as ‘Carlos the Jackal.’ The film was made for Canal Plus; it’s a demanding biography that travels through the history of international terrorism of the 1970s and 1980s. Because Assayas’ film was initially made for television (and already aired, last October, on the Sundance Channel) it won’t be earning any Oscar nominations. Even still, “Carlos” consistently placed highly on critics’ year-end ‘best’ lists, and was an audience favorite at last year’s Cannes Film Festival.

2010 wasn’t really a year for the record books – domestic box office receipts dropped along with ticket sales, approximately 5%. But the 3-D ‘premium’ ticket price kept things nearly even. Even still, of the top ten films at the U.S. box office in 2010, 6 of them were 3-D – but only 2 of those were live-action films: “Avatar” and “Alice in Wonderland.” The remaining films were all animated: “Toy Story 3,” Universal’s “Despicable Me,” and Paramount’s “Shrek Forever After” and “How to Train Your Dragon.” So although 3-D is credited with bringing additional change into studio coffers, that trend seems to be slipping, with audiences growing more picky about whether they spring for the extra bucks to see “Yogi Bear” in 3-D. Although more 3-D films are in the works, it’s still not clear whether 3-D is a technological advance in filmmaking – or a way for the studios to grab a few extra bucks.

With more big-budget films coming your way for 2011, there should be plenty for everyone. Did I mention Sony’s “The Green Hornet” opens in 3-D next week? See you at the movies!

Hollywood Hat Trick

October 25th, 2010 No comments

Scaring Up Big B.O. Horror Bucks

This weekend’s $41.5 million opening by “Paranormal Activity 2” set a record for a horror film opening, besting the 2009 “Friday the 13th” reboot’s $40.6 million opening. “Paranormal Activity 2,” was written by Michael R. Perry, Christopher Landon and Tom Pabst, with a story by Perry based on the first film’s director Oren Peli’s original characters. The new ‘Paranormal’ is directed by Tod Williams, and has already grossed $63.6 million worldwide. With a budget of about $3 million, “Paranormal Activity 2” cost roughly 200 times more than the original film, and would have to make $2.9 billion at the worldwide box office to match the profitability of the first film. So it’s ‘good news, bad news’ for Paramount, which managed expectations for the latest film and utilized a more sophisticated ‘viral’ campaign for it, resulting in the new record opening, but it’s a foregone conclusion that the once-in-a-generation success of “Paranormal Activity” won’t be repeated.

Not In My Back Story…

Another sequel to another surprise hit of last year is making news: “The Hangover 2,” which is filming in Thailand, has nixed a cameo appearance by scandal-racked star Mel Gibson. The sequel to last year’s biggest grossing R-rated comedy, which made $277 million domestically and $420 million worldwide, was scheduled to include Gibson as a reclusive tattoo artist living in Bangkok, but ‘concerns among cast and crew’ have forced director Todd Philips to re-cast Liam Neeson in the role. Cast member Zach Galifianakis recently alluded in a web podcast to a strong “protest” he was voicing about his latest project, but he never mentioned Gibson by name. It’s only the latest in a string of public-relations nightmares for the former box-office champ, following the leaking of recorded phone tirades made against Oksana Grigorieva, his former girlfriend and mother of his year-old son. Gibson’s messy private life has caused his stalwart pal Jodie Foster to put the release of her recent directing effort, “The Beaver,” starring Gibson as a man who expresses himself through a beaver hand puppet, on hold; the film may never get a theatrical release, and instead go ‘straight to video’ as something of an oddity. Insofar as Mike Tyson, a convicted rapist, was offered a cameo in the first film, it seems clear Gibson has not been forgiven by Hollywood for his anti-Semitic, misogynist and racist comments or behavior – nor does it feel like that will happen anytime soon.

Don’t Cats Only Get 9 Lives?

As if the MGM bankruptcy and reorganization could get any messier, another Hollywood film studio, Lions Gate Entertainment, has made an 11th hour bid for the beleaguered Leo the Lion, which was about to face a summary bankruptcy reorganization after a creditor’s vote at the end of this week and be turned over to Spyglass Entertainment principals Gary Barber and Roger Birnbaum to run. Now Lions Gate has offered a package valued at $1.8 billion, including a provision by Carl Icahn, Lions Gate’s largest shareholder, to purchase $963 million of MGM’s $4 billion in debt, making Icahn one of MGM’s biggest creditors (including the $500 million of MGM debt he already owns). As its chief creditor, Icahn would have more say over whether MGM would accept the previous plan to have Barber and Birnbaum run the show, or merge Lions Gate Entertainment with MGM, which Lions Gate chairman Jon Feltheimer says will result in a more vital company with a stronger cash flow. To complicate matters, Icahn acknowledged the presence of another MGM bidder, who has not been identified, although reports surfaced recently of interest by Sahara India Pariwar, an Indian conglomerate. As this bizarre, long march to ‘resolution’ (whatever that might mean) for MGM plays out, it’s clear that Leo the Lion still embraces drama…

Watch Out!! Something May Happen…!

October 4th, 2010 No comments

There’s a lot of press being generated these days about a vague terrorist threat dealing with Europe. The U.S. State Department issued a travel alert today involving Europe, especially Germany, England and France, and, without offering any greater details, suggested U.S. citizens abroad check in with their local embassies, avoid large public gatherings and avoid discussing their plans in public. Wow. I don’t know about you, but I feel safer already… (Not.) Late in the afternoon I heard a tiny bit of  ‘detail’ provided by the State Department, which hinted that Americans in Europe should “avoid public transportation.” Great – there goes the budget!!

Frankly, what the press and media in general are doing is the same thing a good screenwriter does: setting a strong tone to their story. In the case of the current warnings, the tone is clear: foreboding. It’s a potent tone, and TV, the internet and radio have run with it – whether or not it really means anything. Foreboding is a great for a story, but it presents a problem: once you’ve scared the audience, where do you go from there? “Keep being scared,” you instruct the crowd sitting in the dark watching your story – by increasing the risks its characters face – until its ‘payoff.’ In a dramatic story, if there is no dramatic payoff, the audience will be disappointed. In a ‘real’ story, if there is no dramatic ‘payoff,’ we are relieved.

So life is mirroring art these days – replete with ‘terrorist chatter,’ drone attacks and intelligence warnings. And in an election year, no less. It’s the stuff of great drama – but manipulative real life.

Let’s hope that the current atmosphere of dread passes soon – but it should offer a solid example of how important tone and mood are to a story. True, dread, foreboding and wariness aren’t the most fun of moods to set – but they force folks to pay attention, don’t they? And for that reason, they are valuable (and manipulative) weapons in your arsenal as a writer…

Worst Year? Numero Uno? Goin’ Bust?!

August 31st, 2010 No comments

  

Worst Movie Year Ever?

Last month in the Wall Street Journal, pundit and scribe Joe Queenan raised a lot of hackles in Hollywood when he wrote an article asking whether 2010 was “The Worst Movie Year Ever?” The piece got a lot of play, and Queenan’s alternately comedic and sarcastic tone is entertaining, even if it’s unfair to the film industry. He points out (accurately) that big-budget tentpole films like “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” and “Robin Hood” were critically panned and commercial flops, but goes on to suggest “Inception,” the summer’s biggest non-animated hit, should be used to burrow into film execs’ minds and get them to stop making dreck like “Dinner for Schmucks.”

What Queenan doesn’t take into account is that nobody sets out to make a bad movie. (OK, maybe “Showgirls,” but it’s only good because it’s so bad, at least from a story standpoint…) “Dinner for Schmucks,” which may turn out to be the year’s biggest turkey, was based on a very successful French comedy, and clearly had studio support throughout its long gestation. “Grown Ups” has made $160 million, and follows Adam Sandler’s tried & true formula of delivering movies squarely aimed at his fan base, which obviously doesn’t include fussbudget Queenan. And Queenan’s lack of opinion on “Inception” speaks volumes: he can snipe about the summer’s misses, of which there have been a few, but he fails to give credit where credit is due. “Inception” is the top non-animated film of the summer, a cerebral $270 million hit with audiences (and most critics); the top animated film, “Toy Story 3,” comes out of the redoubtable Pixar studio, and has made more than $400 million domestically in addition to garnering some of the best reviews of the “Toy Story” franchise.

It seems like every year some pundit declares the year’s movie offerings as ‘the worst ever.’ Does 2010 stack up? Well, let’s put it this way: box office is up. If that seems like good news, you might want to stop reading right now…

It’s Liar’s Poker Again…

This past weekend’s final box office grosses have come in. Initially, Sunday’s ‘preliminary’ tally reported Lionsgate’s “The Last Exorcism” as the winner over Sony’s “Takers,” both of which opened over the weekend. Lionsgate reported $21.3 million versus Sony’s $21 million, giving ‘Exorcism’ the vaunted #1 spot. But, as we have written in the past, this process offers a lot of ‘wiggle room’ for studios to fudge their results for effect. That’s apparently what happened, because when the smoke cleared and the final numbers came in, the order was reversed: “Takers” was #1 with $20.5 million against “The Last Exorcism”‘s $20.3 million opening.

Where are YOU going…?

It certainly can be taken as a good sign that the box office gross is tracking up 1% this year from last year’s record $10 billion total. On the other hand, the fact that there have been a number of lackluster 3-D films inflating overall box office with higher ticket prices has hidden an alarming 4% drop in movie attendance in 2010. Combined with the unsustainable models of “Avatar” and “Paranormal Activity,” which helped elevate 2009’s box office to its record, it seems clear that expectations in Hollywood are out-of-whack with results. It will be interesting to see how the rest of the year plays out, and whether Hollywood can reverse this troubling moviegoer slump. Will technology and economic forces conspire to make Hollywood follow the old ‘record business’ into freefall?

But, then again, have you seen the slate of films due in 2011? They’re awesome, as we say here in Tinseltown. Trust me

Blue? – or – Boo!

June 3rd, 2010 1 comment

A la “Speed,” here’s a a pop quiz: What was the most profitable movie last year?

If you guessed “Avatar,” you’re wrong. James Cameron’s movie may have made the most money of any film last year, but the winner in terms of profitability is “Paranormal Activity,” the ‘little movie that could’… “Paranormal Activity,” written and directed (on HD video) by Oren Peli for something like $11 thousand, went on to make $108 million domestically. For its part, “Avatar” made the most money ($750 million domestically, and about twice that overseas), but it also cost the most. The budget for “Avatar” is rumored to be in the $300 million range, while Peli used his own home to save on expenses. So it all adds up to big profits for Paramount – which, coincidentally, released both pictures. 

But in terms of return on investment, Peli’s “Paranormal Activity” earned an unheard-of-in-Hollywood 9,800% return. That makes “Avatar”‘s 750% profit (and remember – that’s worldwide) look downright puny. But pictures like “Paranormal Activity” are phenomena which rarely occur; Hollywood’s last bona fide breakout hit of this scale was “The Blair Witch Project,” and that was ten years ago…

Apart from their mutual heritage as very successful Paramount releases (‘Paranormal’ was actually a 2007 L.A. “Screamfest” festival entry before it made the rounds in Hollywood and ultimately ended up at Dreamworks, which ceded it to corporate parent Paramount), both pictures share another attribute which increased their odds: they are both genre movies. And that’s the secret to their successes…

Genre movies are Hollywood’s ‘ace up its sleeve,’ because they are popular and profitable and fairly cheap. Neither “Paranormal Activity” nor “Avatar” are fair examples, since they represent the exceptional upside. But you can point to a lot of solid genre performers in the marketplace, like “District 9” or “The Hangover,” both of which represented a low budget with high returns. Other genre successes include martial-arts/crime films (almost every Steven Seagal film has been quite successful – believe it or not…), action films (Val Kilmer still works; so does Dolph Lundgren), and the most recent sub-genre entry: dance films. These films represent something of a ‘sure bet’ for the studios (or their low-budget subsidiaries), since a low-budget film is far more likely to make money if it catches on with audiences – especially compared to their big-budget tentpole films, which must basically succeed just to break even. And a genre flop? Pffft. It’s dust – and dirt cheap at that…

 

Sure, the studios like to insist they’re creating art, 24 times a second, to paraphrase French New Wave film director Jean-Luc Godard, but really it’s ‘show business,’ not ‘show art.’ And like everybody else (except moreso), Hollywood wants to make money. That’s why they make side-bets with genre pictures while flaunting their big-budget productions. And it should come as no surprise that the most successful genre of all has been the horror/thriller genre. The success of “The Ring,” “Saw,” “Hostel,” “Scream” and all their gory and/or shriek-inducing sequels is part of a tried-and-true approach of marketing movies to teens that will cause them to slide together a bit closer in the dark. Granted, the splatter factor of recent years may be greater reason to cover each others’ eyes instead, but the business model remains the same: scare the sh#t out of the kids and they’ll always come back for more.

Genre success isn’t science fiction – I’m not joking. Genre success is kick-ass and steppin’ out. And an $11 thousand movie that makes over a hundred million? That’s genre success that’s truly shocking…

“SPAM, for lack of a better word, is good.”

May 24th, 2010 No comments

I started a blog about screenwriters – and those who sought to aspire to screenwriter status – just a few months ago. I’ve done my best to write informative pieces about ideas and writing and films and writing about films…

But I’ve discovered the EVIL side of the commercial Internet… (Is there any other kind, you may ask? And I will tell you that here are a lot more aspiring  writers than there are sites targeted against them.) 

In recent weeks I’ve been bombarded by spam from commercial sites that calculate to raise their profile – and thus – potential profits because they have ‘linked’ to me. There’s no need to worry. “For Bard’s” blog is  secure – it recognizes this robotic/repetetive spam and is eager and willing to accept your NON-spam comments: (and we know the difference!).

If you want story guidance, or even just need to contact an experienced story analyst, you have an opportunity. Send us a message. Just DON’T send spam – it’ll only be ignored…

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Meanwhile, in the Executive Suite…

May 14th, 2010 No comments

Kick Cannes

The honchos of Hollywood have decamped for the rainy, volcanic ash-threatened French Riviera for the 63rd Cannes Film Festival. Most travel plans were complicated by ash clouds from the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajokull, which caused all sorts of delayed flights, missed connections and other travel headaches for the Hollywood executives and filmmakers on their way to Nice or Cannes. The weather hasn’t really cooperated, either: last week large waves pounded the Croisette, damaging the beach and local establishments. On Wednesday’s opening night, the weather held until after the opening ceremonies, then started raining once the opening film, Ridley Scott’s “Robin Hood,” began screening.

And those lucky enough (or beset upon, depending on who you talk to) to make it from Hollywood to exotic southern France can look forward to… more Hollywood. This year the festival runneth over with Hollywood’s touch, from opening remarks delivered by Kristin Scott Thomas, to a jury headed by Tim Burton and including Benicio del Toro; and don’t forget the movies: the slate of Hollywood product includes “Robin Hood,” “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,” Woody Allen’s “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger,” and Doug Liman’s “Fair Game,” based on the memoir of outed CIA agent Valerie Plame, starring  Naomi Watts as Plame and Sean Penn as her diplomat husband Joseph Wilson.

So far, apparently, business is subdued at Cannes. But – a slow business climate, lots of American product on display, scads of Hollywood insiders walking around… Dare I say it? Maybe all those executives should’ve stayed home and caught up on their sleep, ’cause they’re practically in ‘little Hollywood’ now!

I Thought I Saw an Apparition – But I Guess I Was Mistaken…

One of the weirder story items coming from Hollywood (and subsequently Cannes) these days is the abrupt departure of Bob Berney, one of the two principals at

Berney & Pohlad

Apparition, the film company he and Bill Pohlad announced last August. Since then, Apparition has acquired and released several films, including Jane Campion’s “Bright Star,” “Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day” and the Oscar-nominated “The Young Victoria.” But Berney’s sudden split from Apparition on the eve of Cannes, where he was to represent Apparition, has left partner Pohlad and company staffers stunned – and scrambling to make alternate arrangements to represent their interests at the festival. Apparition staffers learned Monday of Berney’s departure in a company-wide email, which was forwarded to the press in defiance of conventional Hollywood public relations protocol, wherein executives do little but gush over one another.

But there’s a twist (it wouldn’t be Hollywood without one, right?): Bob Berney is going to Cannes… So everyone in Tinseltown asks – why? It’s invariably about money… But what sort? Another indie film releasing company? Something bigger? And already, the sharks are circling: aware of Apparition’s distribution deal with Sony, industry bulletin boards around town lit up with speculation that a distribution deal may have become available at the major, prompting denials, frustration and confusion all around.

Berney is a recognized industry leader, having been involved with Newmarket Films, IFC Films and Picturehouse. Among the successes he’s associated with are “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” “La Vie En Rose,” and “The Passion of the Christ.” It’s not clear what his plans are on the Croisette, but – there’s always that rarely-seen ‘other choice’ of running a studio…

 

 Lion Around?

Much has been written of the slow and inevitable demise of Metro Goldwyn Mayer and United Artists. (See my posting “Dyin’ Lion?”) But MGM, whose creditors have been trying to sell the once-revered Leo the Lion, isn’t garnering the kinds of bids the creditors would like. As a ‘studio’ awash in $3.7 billion worth of debt, MGM simply isn’t an attractive purchase prospect, despite its large library of titles. The studio eventually received only two purchase offers, and one of those, Access Industries, has since rescinded; the remaining offer, from Time Warner for $1.5 billion, was deemed too low by the Lion.

So apparently the company’s creditors have adopted a new strategy: Bloomberg.com reports that the top five creditors have amassed a controlling portion of the company’s debt and are now putting out feelers to Hollywood heavyweights who could run the studio as a going concern. Never mind that MGM already has a Motion Picture Group chairman, Mary Parent, who was production head at Universal before moving to the Lion’s den – the creditors want new blood, and have spoken to a number of former studio heads and other top players, from former News Corp. head Peter Chernin and ex-Viacom topper Jonathan Dolgen to Spyglass principals Gary Barber and Roger Birnbaum. Who knows? Maybe Bob Berney’s on their list as well… he’s currently ‘between projects,’ as we say here in LaLa Land…

No, Mr. Bond… I expect you to LIVE!

April 20th, 2010 No comments

Auric Goldfinger couldn’t do it…

Ernst Stravro Blofeld failed a bunch of times… Rosa Klebb… Even the nefarious agents of SMERSH and SPECTRE never got it together.

But it looks like MGM’s money woes have done something James Bond’s storied villains could only dream of: stop him in his tracks. Who knows? Maybe they’ve killed him altogether. But I seriously doubt it. You see, this ‘corpse’ is STILL worth a lot of money.

To understand the Bond franchise is to comprehend a family money-making machine so powerful it is practically the last  feather (to strain a metaphor) in the cap atop MGM’s Leo the Lion’s fleabitten brow… “Bond 23,” the latest planned Bond picture, is tightly controlled – as most have been – by original producer’s Albert ‘Cubby’ Broccoli’s daughter Barbara and her stepbrother Michael Wilson; they control the family business, the billion-dollar Bond franchise, since ‘Cubby’ Broccoli’s death in 1996. The next film was set to be scripted by Peter Morgan, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade; Purvis and Wade were the scriptwriters who rebooted the franchise with “Casino Royale” in 2006, and the recent “Quantum of Solace.” But the Bond franchise would be about the only other franchise the aging lion has to offer in a sale. Sure, they have the “Pink Panther” series, but the two best cards MGM/UA still holds in the interests of a possible sale are its rights in the Bond franchise and two planned “Hobbit” films, all of which are potentially hamstrung by MGM’s never-ending sale process. Although it’s unlikely the “Hobbit” powers that be, namely Peter Jackson and New Line Pictures (New Line was recently re-absorbed by Time/Warner), won’t let that happen, either.

But never count-out a British secret agent – or a wily hobbit. In the end, although it will certainly mean the end of the MGM imprimatur, the ailing for-sale studio will probably auction off its last valuable properties, leaving it only with a ‘famous’ logo and a popular (if aging) film library.

‘Ass’ Kicks ‘Dragon’

April 20th, 2010 No comments

For the second time in two weeks, the order of the reported #1 and #2 weekend films has changed. It’s not surprising, given the closeness of the two amounts; “How to Train Your Dragon” reported an estimate of $20 million, while the presumptive #2, “Kick-Ass,” reported $19.8 million in weekend box office receipts.

Of course, that’s ONLY if you believed the studio estimates… And that’s not always the best thing to do. Because sometimes (like twice in the last two weeks!!) the studios ‘fudge’ their numbers. So, in the end, “How to Train Your Dragon” actually made $19.6 million – meaning someone at Paramount fudged the total by $400K. Ironically, “Kick-Ass”‘ estimates were spot-on, remaining at $19.8 million.

Of course, ‘Dragon’ remains popular at the box office, having taken in $158 million domestically, and the 3-D version represents about 65% of that total. Fanboy flick “Kick-Ass” should continue to do well for the next week or so, but then it (and every other film in the marketplace) will run into the “Iron Man 2” buzzsaw when Paramount’s tentpole picture opens on May 7th.

My Favorite Week – Conclusion

April 19th, 2010 No comments

 

When we last left our intrepid heroes… they were ‘trapped’ in the projection booth of the newly-renovated 1984 Yale Art Gallery Auditorium. A throng of 400 ardent fans circulated outside, and Mr. Vincent Price was overwhelmed and remained inside…

Like Mark Linn Baker‘s Benjy Stone in “My Favorite Year,” I probably lived ‘My Favorite Week’ as I was the ‘handler’ (personal assistant is a much nicer term) for Mr. Vincent Price, Yale Class or 1933, when he returned to our alma mater to attend a retrospective of his films.

 

My Favorite Week: Conclusion

Being stuck inside a narrow projection booth with a nervous Vincent Price wasn’t my idea of a good time, even if it meant increased time with the man I had grown to know and respect. For one thing, there were probably 5 or 6 of us in the small booth, and we had a GREAT view of all the people (his loving audience, really), who had remained in hopes of getting Vincent Price’s autograph after seeing “House of Wax” with him. To keep Mr. Price distracted, I showed him a copy of the current Yale Alumni Magazine; it contained a feature I’d written about the new Yale Film Study Center; he skimmed the article, then peered eagerly at the byline and turned to me and said: “Your name is Barrett?” I nodded, and he responded “But your friends call you ‘Barry.'”

“Your college pals call you ‘Vinnie,” I replied. “It’s just a nickname.” Mr. Price leaned into me and smiled. “I named my son ‘Barrett.’ ‘Vincent Barrett Price.'” Not knowing this at all, I simply smiled. And Mr. Price smiled back. It was undoubtedly a ‘moment’ between us. Especially when you look into those blue eyes. Even my wife agrees – the guy was suave.

I exited the projection booth and, with the help of students and others, got Mr. Price’s most faithful fans to depart through the main doors. Some lingered for a few minutes, but eventually we got everyone out of the auditorium and closed the main doors. Moments later we emerged, out the fire exit, onto High Street. Although it was cold (after all, we’d sat through an entire feature film, and it was now evening), Mr. Price and I headed up Chapel Street, towards his hotel. As we neared the hotel, Mr. Price expressed a preference for a drink (a preference I shared), and we descended into the “Old Heidelberg” restaurant. As we walked down its steps, Mr. Price suggested the place had been declared by his older brothers as a a ‘speakeasy’ during Prohibition; I told him that my dad, Yale Class of ’48, had declared the place a ‘passion pit.’ In spite of (or perhaps because of) its various reputations, we spent a very warm and hospitable evening there mainly due to the generosity of the restaurant staff and its patrons.

At the time, Mr. Price was the host of “Mystery” on PBS; his current assignment was to introduce episodes of the great BBC spy series “Reilly, Ace of Spies.” More than one ‘Reilly’ fan arrived at our table and asked Mr. Price “How will it end?,” only to be met with an autograph, a thank-you and his sweetly suggested “Watch it next week…” As we drank our beers and enjoyed tremendous fried calamari courtesy of the establishment, Mr. Price and I had the times of our lives. As one of the last autograph-seekers left before I escorted Mr. Price back-up to his hotel, I asked him the question that had been lingering for me: Why was it that HE thanked autograph seekers, rather than the other way around? He smiled, laughed his ‘Vincent Price laugh,’ and responded, very sincerely “Without THEM, you see… I wouldn’t BE Vincent Price!” I guess he always knew where his fan base was… and where his next meal was coming from.

What impresed me about Mr. Price was his memory: he recalled not only all kinds of minutae about his favorite films, but some of the stuff he did ‘for the money,’ as he readily admitted. Where the two intersected was interesting: to do the voice-over on Michael Jackson’s multi-platinum, Grammy Award winning album “Thriller,” Mr. Price was paid A FLAT FEE of $5 thousand dollars – AND Jackson never thanked him at the multi-Grammy winning ceremony. But, while explaining that, Mr. Price very proudly admitted being cast in his ‘first’ animated voice-over role as ‘Ratigan’ in Disney’s “The Great Mouse Detective.” The movie wouldn’t come out for a few years… and I think that suited Mr. Price quite well. Because, unfortunately, both he and his wife were sick…

To Be Followed by: My Favorite Week – Epilogue