Alan Alda Receives SAG Lifetime Achievement Award

On Sunday, January 27, the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) is honoring Alan Alda (M*A*S*H) at their annual awards ceremony with their Lifetime Achievement Award, to be presented by Tom Hanks. According to SAG, the award is given to an actor who fosters the finest ideals of the profession.

“He [Alda] is an artist whose body of work is a testament to the craft and the magic of our business,” SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris said in a statement. “His ability to make us laugh, to think and to feel is extraordinary. From theater to television, movies and new media Alan’s dedication and talent are exceeded only by his contributions to a just and caring society.”

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Photo from Hamptons Film Festival

Alda’s career has spanned more than six decades, taking him from the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital in Korea to Capitol Hill to being a psychiatrist. He has also acted on Broadway and written and directed films and television episodes. He was the first person to win an Emmy for writing, directing and acting in the same television series. And just last year, he won the Dick Cavett Award at the Hamptons International Film Festival.

While Alda is best known as the wise-cracking Hawkeye Pierce, a top chest-cutter saving lives just miles from the front in Korea, he has portrayed a variety of characters throughout his career, including Dr. Gabriel Lawrence on ER and Senator Arnold Vinick in The West Wing.

Alda and the MASH Cast; Photo from Wikipedia Commons

Off-screen Alda pursues a variety of activities, including writing, teaching and boxing. He has written four books, three of which are New York Times Best Sellers. His most recent work, titled “If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face,” discusses the importance of communication and how we can better connect with one another.

Communication has always been of interest to Alda, particularly when it comes to difficult to understand subjects. This passion led Alda to help establish the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University, where he serves as a guest lecturer on occasion. Alda has always had an interest in science and hosted Scientific American Frontiers for twelve years.

Last summer, Alda announced that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, which affects one’s nerves and mobility. Rather than letting it slow him down, Alda has become more active. He continues to act and give speeches around the country. He also created a podcast called “Clear and Vivid” where he discusses the art of communication with guests ranging from authors to politicians to fellow actors. Alda has no plans to slow down and sees his recent diagnosis as a puzzle to solve rather than an inhibition.

“It hasn’t stopped my life at all,” Alda said. “I’ve had a richer life than I’ve had up until now.”

 

West Side Story Cast Announced

After months of searching and more than 30,000 auditions, the Steven Spielberg’s remake of West Side Story has found its Maria. Rachel Zegler, a high school student from New Jersey, has been cast in the role opposite Ansel Elgort (The Fault in Our Stars) who was tapped to play Tony last year. Zegler is a 17-year-old YouTube star, known for her covers of popular songs and played Maria in a local production of West Side Story.

Rachel Zegler Photo from Deadline

“I am so thrilled to be playing the iconic role of Maria alongside this amazing cast,” Zegler said. “‘West Side Story’ was the first musical I encountered with a Latina lead character. As a Colombian-American, I am humbled by the opportunity to play a role that means so much to the Hispanic community.”

Other lead roles have also been cast, with Tony nominee Ariana DeBose slated to play Anita, David Alvarez, who originated the role of Billy Elliot on Broadway, as Bernardo and Josh Andrés Rivera as Chino.

Spielberg announced the West Side Story remake just over a year ago and has spent that time searching for the perfect cast. He and his team have been committed to finding actors who were of Puerto Rican or Latinx descent to portray the Sharks in the film.

“When we began this process a year ago, we announced that we would cast the roles of Maria, Anita, Bernardo, Chino and the Sharks with Latina and Latino actors. I’m so happy that we’ve assembled a cast that reflects the astonishing depth of talent in America’s multifaceted Hispanic community,” Spielberg said. “I am in awe of the sheer force of the talent of these young performers, and I believe they’ll bring a new and electrifying energy to a magnificent musical that’s more relevant than ever.”

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Photo from Deadline

In December 2018, Spielberg and Tony Award winner Tony Kushner (Lincoln), who is adapting West Side Story, traveled to the University of Puerto Rico to learn about the role performing arts plays on the island.

The new version, produced by 20th Century Fox, will include some tweaks, such as a replacing Doc, the owner of the corner store, with Valentina, played by Rita Moreno, the original Anita. However, Spielberg intends to remain true to the source material, including all of Leonard Bernstein’s original songs as well as some of the iconic dance numbers.

Disney/Verizon Partnership To Change the Entertainment Industry

Last week Disney and Verizon announced a new partnership to combine forces and technology to bring media and entertainment into a new age. In the summer of 2018, Disney established their StudioLab innovation program to advance their storytelling ability and create new tools and methods for production. In October 2018, Verizon began offering 5G wireless services in four cities — Los Angeles, Houston, Indianapolis and Sacramento — to test its capabilities and how consumers would use the new technology. The two companies hope that by working together they will be able to enhance the theater experience with interactive characters, location-based entertainment and explore augmented and mixed realities.

Verizon

Photo from Deadline

Verizon’s 5G network is capable of transmitting data at a rate of 10 gigabytes per second, allowing one to download a digital move in about 10 seconds. Combining their network with Disney’s production may allow for easier and quicker transfer of scenes when casts are shooting in remote locations. Verizon is also going to explore how their 5G services may help production and even change how movies are delivered to theaters.

Since its launch last summer, Disney’s StudioLab has explored several new technologies, including new collaboration tools, using drones to scout locations, virtual reality and more. One of their recent innovations is a set of large, flat screen displays that will bring theater lobbies into the digital age when it comes to displaying movie posters. If they are networked via Verizon’s 5G system, sending digital promotional assets will also become easier.

Photo from Variety

“Verizon is excited to join Disney to lead that path forward for the industry,”  a Verizon spokesperson told Deadline. “The innovation that will happen at Disney StudioLab will be game changing, with creative and technical leadership from across Disney’s production houses and throughout the industry.”

Diego Scott, Verizon’s chief marketing officer believes this partnership has the ability to “transform the future of filmmaking and entertainment,” according to Engadget.

Verizon has also partnered with the New York Times to create a 5G lab for journalists and help transform the world of digital journalism.

Kevin Reilly To Head WarnerMedia’s Streaming Service

WarnerMedia has tapped television veteran Kevin Reilly to be the Chief Creative Officer for their new direct-to-consumer streaming service. Reilly will retain his position as President of TBS and TNT, as well as Chief Creative Officer at Turner Entertainment. Reilly has been tasked with creating a strategy for the new platform to create its identity and will also oversee the content that is made available.

Reilly is a seasoned, forward thinking executive who has handled programming for NBC, Fox, TNT and TBS. After joining Turner in 2015, he experimented with distribution patterns and multi-platform releases, led the charge in reducing ad loads and has created original, bingeable serie. Read the memo regarding Reilly’s achievements and the decision to hire him from WarnerMedia’s CEO, John Stankey, here.

Kevin Reilly Variety Cover

Photo from Variety

Over the past year, WarnerMedia has taken strides to fill key leadership roles for their new streaming service, which will be separate from HBO Now. These hires have included AT&T veteran Brad Bentley as general manager and EVP of the direct-to-consumer unit and Turner CTO Jeremy Legg, who will handle the technology side of the service. Currently, there is little information available regarding the new platform’s relationship with other WarnerMedia digital properties, such as Boomerang and DC Universe, though there is speculation that these existing platforms will be merged with the new one.

The streaming service is slated to be released in the fourth quarter of 2019 and programming will draw from the company’s library that includes franchises such as Harry Potter and LEGO, as well as sitcoms like Friends and The Big Bang Theory. Reilly’s hiring suggests that original programming will also be part of the platforms portfolio, though no projects have been released yet.

Warner Bros. HQ LA

Photo from Variety

At the end of 2018, WarnerMedia announced a three tier structure for customers to choose from to personalize their experience. The lowest tier includes a starter movie package, the next tier has original programming and blockbuster movies and the third tier includes content from the lower tiers, as well as additional content from the WarnerMedia library and, in the future, licensed content from third parties.

Stankey intends for this service to compete with Netflix, Amazon and Disney’s soon-to-be-released digital platform, Disney Play.

“We are committed to launching a compelling and competitive product that will serve as a complement to our existing businesses and help us to expand our reach by offering a new choice for entertainment with the WarnerMedia collection of films, television series, libraries, documentaries and animation,” Stankey said at Reilly’s announcement.

It’s “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”

For thirty-one years, in a sweater and sneakers, Mr. Rogers spread a message of kindness and love to his viewers from a small neighborhood set in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In 2003, Rogers passed away from stomach cancer, but his legacy lives on and is now being retold in a film starring Tom Hanks (The Post, Forrest Gump) as the man in the red sweater.

Photo from Deadline

Throughout his life, Rogers was recognized everywhere he went and he made a point of forging connections with others. His message of prayer, kindness and being a good neighbor began when he was a college student and came home to find his parents had purchased a television. Upon turning it on, he saw people throwing pies at one another and he made it his mission to create a television program that spread grace.

Although biopics have become common as of late — think “Vice” and “On the Basis of Sex” — “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” doesn’t tell the story of Rogers’ life. Instead it follows the relationship between Rogers and Lloyd Vogel, a cynical journalist who is tasked with covering Rogers for a story. Matthew Rhys, who recently won an Emmy for his performance as Philip Jennings in The Americans, plays Lloyd, a fictional version of Tom Junod, a journalist who wrote a profile of Rogers in Esquire in November 1998 titled “Can You Say… Hero?

Photo from Independent

Hanks is no stranger to playing iconic roles including editor of The Washington Post, Ben Bradlee, in Steven Spielberg’s “The Post,” Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger in the film “Sully” about landing Flight 1549 in the Hudson River and Walt Disney in “Saving Mr. Banks” about the making the film Mary Poppins. Hanks has a talent for embodying and becoming those he plays rather than simply playing a character.

The film went to Pittsburgh, including to the sets used for Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, for shooting under the direction of Marielle Heller (Diary of a Teenage Girl). The script was written by Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster, with TriStar Pictures serving as the studio for the project and Big Beach Films producing.

Lionsgate Will Distribute “Knives Out”

“Knives Out” is an original murder mystery written and directed by Rian Johnson (Star Wars: The Last Jedi) and it’s already shaping up to be a hit. Johnson has kept the plot under wraps, saying only that it’s “his contemporary version of the locked-door mansion murder mystery,” and inspired by Agatha Christie novels.

A star-studded cast fills the screen, with Daniel Craig (Skyfall) headlining with Chris Evans (Captain America: The First Avenger), Lakeith Stanfield (Selma), Jamie Lee Curtis (True Lies), Ana de Armas (Blade Runner 2049), Christopher Plummer (A Beautiful Mind) and Katherine Langford (13 Reasons Why), among others, making up the ensemble cast. The detectives trying to solve the crime are played by Craig and Stanfield, but the ensemble cast’s roles remain unknown.

Photo from Joblo.com

Craig was able to take on the role in “Knives Out” when Danny Boyle’s departure from the “Bond 25” set delayed production. “Bond 25” will be Craig’s final foray as the famed British spy and is set for release on Valentine’s Day 2020. Ram Bergman (Star Wars: The Last Jedi) is teaming up with Johnson once again as a co-producer on the project before they set to work on the new “Star Wars” trilogy.

Johnson sought investors for the script at the Toronto International Film Festival in September and received several offers. Media Rights Capital acquired world rights for the film at the festival and has now partnered with Lionsgate to distribute the film. Johnson and Bergman, were thrilled with the agreement.

“MRC put their trust in us when they first partnered with us on this film and Lionsgate truly champions and empowers the artist to tell the story they want to tell so we couldn’t be in better hands,” Johnson and Bergman told Deadline.

The film is set for a November 27, 2019 release date, just one day before Thanksgiving. Joe Drake, the chairman at Lionsgate Motion Picture Group, is looking forward to the film’s release.

“‘Knives Out’ redefines the detective movie genre in a cool and original way with a superstar filmmaker, an amazing ensemble cast and the perfect partner in MRC, we can hardly wait to bring this big, crowd-pleasing property to a global audience next Thanksgiving,” Drake told Deadline.

Photo from Johnson’s Twitter

The film began production on October 30, 2018, as reported by Johnson in a tweet, and is only days from wrapping.

Disney-Fox Merger Forges Ahead

Last year, Disney announced its intentions to purchase 21st Century Fox Inc. and merge it with the Disney brand. Over the past year, Disney has secured approvals for the merger from several key players, including the European Union and China. Disney will pay $71.3 billion dollars, including $35.7 billion in cash, to acquire Fox and its assets.

Through the merger, Disney will acquire Fox’s film properties — 20th Century Fox, Fox Searchlight Pictures and Fox 2000 — as well as several television and cable channels. They will also gain Fox Networks Group International, Star India and Fox’s stake in Hulu, among other assets. A “New” Fox will be born after the merger, consisting of television channels and a studio lot in Los Angeles and will retain its stake in Roku.

Graphic from Biz Journals

By acquiring Fox’s film studios, Disney will assumed control of a number of major movie franchises and television shows, including Night at the Museum, Ice Age and Home Alone, as well as the upcoming Avatar sequels, the Marvel universe and Star Wars. Popular shows like Archer, Modern Family, Family Guy, Bob’s Burgers and The Simpsons will also join the Disney family.

Due to the international reach of both companies, Disney had to seek regulatory approval from markets around the globe before completing the deal. Antitrust regulators in the US approved the merger in June, on the condition that Disney sell the regional sports channels it acquires from Fox. Despite the ongoing trade war between the United States and China, Chinese regulators gave the merger unconditional approval in November.

The European Union recently granted conditional approval for the deal, after Disney agreed to sell its stake in the History, H2, Crime & Investigation, Blaze and Lifetime channels in Europe to meet competition requirements. Brazil remains a holdout, with the Brazilian Administrative Council of Economic Defense (CADE) raising concerns about a lack of competition on Brazil’s cable networks if the deal goes through. Disney has stated they are continuing to work with CADE to find a solution that will satisfy both sides.

In addition to changing television and film markets, the merger will reshape the streaming landscape as well since Disney will acquire Fox’s 30 percent stake in Hulu, giving it majority control. Comcast and WarnerMedia own the remaining shares of Hulu, 30 percent and 10 percent respectively. Disney has announced plans to take Hulu international and offer its services to more viewers to grow the platform.

Photo from Mashable

With plans to launch its own streaming service in 2019 called Disney Play, experts have raised concerns that Disney is making a mistake by choosing to support two streaming services rather than simply expanding Hulu. Others, however, argue that having both is a benefit for Disney, sinch many Hulu originals, such as “The Handmaid’s Tale,” don’t fit Disney’s family-oriented brand.

Disney’s CEO Bob Iger said Disney is committed to growing Hulu alongside its own streaming platform. “We aim to use the television production capabilities of the combined company to fuel Hulu with a lot more original programming, original programming that we feel will enable Hulu to compete even more aggressively in the marketplace,” Iger told The Wrap.

Between the expansion of Hulu and the launch of Disney Play, Netflix is poised for a battle to maintain control of the market. Ampere Analysis, a London-based analyst firm, has estimated Netflix will have to triple its current spending to match the combined power of Fox and Disney’s entry to the digital content war. Netflix has successfully fought off rivals in the past, including Hulu and Amazon Prime, but the Fox-Disney merger may require new tactics. With the might of the mouse behind Hulu, and Disney Play waiting in the wings, Netflix may be in for the fight of its life.