In the first deal involving a Chinese company taking a financial stake in a Hollywood talent agency, Jeff Berg’s Resolution said today that Beijing-based Bison Capital Holdings has made an investment in the company. The deal means Resolution will advise and consult for Bison, whose founder Peixin Xu serves as an independent director of China’s Bona Film Group, which is 17%-owned by 21st Century Fox. Also, News Corp China Investments CEO Jack Gao will join Resolution’s board of directors. “This partnership will allow us to fund strategic expansion in the global marketplace,” Berg said in announcing the deal today. Bison’s China-based media investments include AirMedia Group, a provider of advertising platforms outside of the home in China. David Unger, the first agent from Berg’s former home ICM to join Resolution after its founding in January 2013, was key in the Bison deal; in addition to film and TV clients he guides Resolution’s media finance group and is the main player on the international side. Berg said Unger will “be coordinating our new China activities as we build our presence in Beijing with Bison.”
The big boys came out today on the side of the broadcasters in their upcoming appearance in front of the Supreme Court in the Aereo case. The solicitor general’s office put the Obama administration solidly in the anti-Aereo camp with a 40-page amicus brief (read it here) filed with the SCOTUS today. The broadcasters say that Aereo infringes on their copyrights by streaming their over-the-air signals without licenses or compensation. Aereo says that it simply leases out antennas and technology that consumers can already use to watch broadcast TV for free.
“The proper resolution of this dispute is straightforward,” the brief states. “Unlike a purveyor of home antennas, or the lessor of hilltop space on which individual consumers may erect their own antennas … respondent does not simply provide access to equipment or other property that facilitates customers’ reception of broadcast signals. Rather, respondent operates an integrated system—i.e., a ‘device or process’—whose functioning depends on its customers’ shared use of common facilities. The fact that as part of that system respondent uses unique copies and many individual transmissions does not alter the conclusion that it is retransmitting broadcast content ‘to the public.’ Like its competitors, respondent therefore must obtain licenses to perform the copyrighted content on which its business relies. That conclusion, however, should not call into question the legitimacy of businesses that use the Internet to provide new ways for consumers to store, hear, and view their own lawfully acquired copies of copyrighted works.”
The high court agreed in January to hear the case, and briefs from the broadcasters were due on February 24 and today. Aereo must submit its response to the petitioner’s brief by March 26 and send in an amicus curiae brief of its own by April 2.
British actor Jon Fletcher (The Good Wife) is set to co-star in CW drama pilot The Messengers from feature producer Basil Iwanyk (the Clash Of The Titans franchise) and CBS TV Studios. Stephen Williams (Lost) has been tapped to direct. The Messengers starts with a mysterious object crashing down to Earth. A group of seemingly unconnected strangers die from the energy pulse, but then awaken to learn that they have been deemed responsible for preventing the impending apocalypse. Fletcher, repped by Resolution and One Entertainment, will play Joshua, a charismatic and compelling pastor at a Texas mega-church. Williams is with UTA and Oasis Media Group.
Related: 2014 The CW Pilots
Brian F. O’Byrne (Prime Suspect, FlashForward) has nabbed a lead role in ABC’s drama pilot Exposed, from writer Charles Randolph, Peter Traugott’s TBD Entertainment, and Universal TV. It centers on Anna, an investigative journalist who will stop at nothing to uncover the truth including making questionable alliances. O’Byrne, repped by Gersh and Lisa Richards Agency, will play Quigg, a very powerful, mysterious man who works for the Pentagon.
Related: 2014 ABC Pilots
Apple CEO Tim Cook disclosed the number, which includes hardware and software sales for the streaming video device, at the company’s annual shareholder meeting today. And at $1B in sales “it’s a little hard to call it a hobby anymore,” he says. He continued his Dance of the Seven Veils with his promise to introduce products that will excite consumers — and investors, who’ve grown anxious as the iPhone and iPad have lost market share to Android-powered rivals. “I’d like to unveil some new products today,” he told shareholders before adding: “I was just kidding about that last part.” He did say, though, that the company increased its spending on research and development by 32% and that will become evident in new products including ”some things that are extensions of things you can see and some that you can’t see.” Cook told an investor that he wanted to keep his plans secret because “you can see we’re getting ripped off left, right and sideways.” Activist investor Carl Icahn planned to use the meeting to lobby for a resolution urging Apple to repurchase $50B of its stock, but he abandoned the effort early this month saying that he was content with its current spending.
Australian actress Indiana Evans, who toplined Lifetime’s Blue Lagoon reboot, rounds out the regular cast of ABC’s drama pilot Secrets & Lies, which has a series penalty. It centers on Ben (Phillippe), a family man who becomes the prime suspect in the murder of a young boy when he finds the body. Evans will play Natalie, Ben and Christy’s (KaDee Strickland) teenage daughter. Set as recurring in the project are Charles Dutton as Kevin Williams, one of the neighbors; and Steven Brand (Magic City) and Kate Ashfield (Shaun Of The Dead) as fellow neighbors, married couple Joseph and Vanessa Turner. Dutton is with Greene & Assoc. and Lighthouse, Brand is with Global Artists Agency; Ashfield by Resolution, iManage and UK’s 42.
Related: 2014 ABC Pilots
Justin Hartley is set as a lead in Lauren Iungerich’s ABC comedy pilot Damaged Goods. It revolves around two damaged men (Hartley, Steve Talley) and two damaged women who explore the minutiae of love and relationships. Hartley’s smart and egoistic Tim is hit hard when his girlfriend and law firm colleague gets the promotion he expected to get. Childish and unable to applaud her accomplishments or be with a woman who outranks him, the relationship seems all but over — unless she resigns. He is repped by Innovative. Also cast as a regular in the pilot is Ben Lawson, who will play Michael, a smart, funny, good-natured, dermatologist.
Related: 2014 ABC Pilots
Christian Keyes (Beauty And The Beast) has booked a regular role in ABC drama pilot Agatha from ABC Studios and The Mark Gordon Co. It’s a character-driven procedural about Agatha, a former convict-turned-big-city criminologist who is brought in to help local police crack a case involving a perplexing disappearance. Keyes, repped by Resolution and manager Jerome Martin, plays tattooed bad boy Zane. Agatha knows he’s trouble — she did time to protect him — but just can’t seem to stay away. And the feeling is definitely mutual. He recurs on BET’s Let’s Stay Together and ABC’s Mistresses.
Oscar-Winning DP Haskell Wexler Backs Sarah Jones In Memoriam Campaign, Calls For Safer Sets In Open Letter
EXCLUSIVE: Two time Academy Award-winning cinematographer Haskell Wexler, ASC today threw his support behind the mounting movement calling for accountability in the on-set death of Midnight Rider crew member Sarah Jones. In a letter sent to fellow members of IATSE Local 600 and obtained by Deadline, Wexler supports efforts to include Jones’s name to Sunday’s Oscars In Memoriam tribute and called her death in Thursday’s train incident an act of “criminal negligence.” Wexler co-founded a group called 12on/12off which advocates a rehaul of current standards that allow for excessively long work hours and questionably safe working conditions on film and TV sets across the industry. In 2006 he directed the documentary Who Needs Sleep? about the dangers crews face in situations in which such health concerns are not prioritized. Read Wexler’s letter:
Dear Fellow Workers,
I am part of a group asking that Sarah Jones’ name be included in the Academy’s “In Memoriam” section of the Awards telecast this Sunday. Sarah and the three injured crew members were not victims of an “accident” but of criminal negligence. Something that would not have happened if proper safety rules were in place.
Here is a copy of an ad rejected by our Union magazine, ICG. I was told that the magazine is on, “high alert” on this subject of workplace safety, especially if it comes from me! In this case, the subject comes from the IATSE. They say the magazine doesn’t want to deal with this “political football” even though it is an official IATSE resolution.
UPDATED: Two politically-charged Oscar-nominated documentaries, Jehane Noujaim‘s The Square and Joshua Oppenheimer‘s The Act of Killing, have taken their awards push to the international stage as balloting closes today, both attempting to effect real world change by reaching the very audience they depict onscreen. Noujaim’s The Square tracks the ongoing Egyptian Revolution of 2011 through 2013 through the eyes of four Egyptians at ground zero and was released theatrically and on Netflix in October. The Sundance Audience Award-winner was blocked from release in Egypt and had been pirated so much internationally that the filmmakers opted to release an Arabic-language stream via Distrify earlier this month. Yesterday Noujaim & Co. went one step further, making The Square available in Egypt for free on YouTube, circumventing censors whose refusal to rule on the pic’s admissibility had prevented a proper release in the country.
“This is a film that was born in Tahrir Square, by 40 Egyptian filmmakers who all met in the square and quickly saw the dark story that was forming once the international news cameras left. We knew that we had to make sure our story would be told to the world by us,” said Noujaim via email.
“It was crucial to release the film before the Oscars,” she continued. “It is the first nomination for a film from Egypt, and is a voice for freedom and democracy when there have been almost 30,000 people arrested since July, and among them many journalists and activists. The police brutality and killings in Egypt reported by Amnesty in the last 6 months have been unprecedented. In a time when the power structure is trying to white wash history and squares around the world are rising up with people claiming their rights it is crucial to to show the many who continue to fight for basic freedoms that their voices will be heard.”
The filmmakers will continue to try to pass The Square through Egypt’s censors so the the film can be legally released in the country. “It was important for us to continue this effort because this will be a major step in the direction toward support of freedom of speech in Egypt, because it will be the first time the government allows a piece of work to exist whether or not they agree or disagree with what it says,” said Noujaim.
Drafthouse Films’ The Act of Killing similarly encountered obstacles in reaching its subject audience – the people of Indonesia, whose government has historically ignored the acts of death squads that murdered an estimated 1M people in the nation’s politically-motivated genocide of 1965-66. Director Oppenheimer worked for eight years with the families of victims and the perpetrators of the killings which were carried out decades ago but have never been publicly acknowledged by the current regime. Despite the fact that the film could not openly screen in Indonesia, the film’s Berlin, BAFTA, and numerous critics awards propelled the ongoing issue of impunity for these war crimes into the global conversation. The Act of Killing has been seen in thousands of underground screenings in the country and in September, Drafthouse teamed with VICE and VHX to offer a free download geotargeted for Indonesian users; offered on BitTorrent in December, the film was downloaded over 3.5 million times. After the film was nominated for the Best Documentary Oscar, the Jakarta Globe addressed the genocide on its January cover story in which a spokesman for the Indonesian president acknowledged “the issues of our bleak past.”
UPDATE: Heroes alum Greg Grunberg is returning to primetime. No, he hasn’t been drafted for the upcoming Heroes event miniseries on NBC but for a co-starring role in ABC’s medical drama pilot Warriors from writer Chris Keyser, Mandeville TV and ABC Studios. Inspired by the Walter Reed Military Medical Center, Warriors follow the best and brightest active-duty military doctors and nurses as they practice trailblazing medicine. Grunberg, repped by manager Susan Calogerakis, Resolution, and Jackoway Tyerman, will play wheelchair-bound OBGYN and obstetrical surgeon Leonard Mooney, a decommissioned officer with a gambling problem.
Related: 2014 ABC Pilots
Erik Palladino (NCIS:LA) has landed a regular role in ABC drama pilot Agatha from ABC Studios and The Mark Gordon Co. Agatha is a character-driven procedural about a former convict-turned-big-city criminologist who is brought in to help local police crack a case involving a perplexing disappearance. Palladino, with the Coronel Group, will play Captain Benjamin Cooper, the admired and well-respected head of Philadelphia’s Major Crimes division.
‘Ride Along’ Producer Will Packer Sets Up First Film At Universal, Comedy ‘Girls Trip’ With Malcolm Lee Directing; ‘Ride Along 2′ Will Start Shooting This Summer
BREAKING: Will Packer, who produced the $123.1M-to-date grosser Ride Along with Kevin Hart and Ice Cube and currently has two pictures in the box office Top 10 with About Last Night (also a Hart vehicle that has grossed $38M in two weeks), has set up his next film with Universal Pictures via his Will Packer Productions banner. It’s a comedy, Girls Trip, with Best Man’s Holiday helmer Malcolm D. Lee set to direct. It has yet to set a writer. Ride Along 2 will be Packer’s next picture with Tim Story at the helm, it was just confirmed. Ice Cube and Kevin Hart recently closed a deal to reprise their roles as the quick-witted security guard (Hart) who has his eye on his partner’s (Cube’s) sister. The sequel will start shooting a week after Think Like A Man 2 opens on June 20, 2014.
Lee, of course, recently directed Best Man Holiday for Universal which has grossed over $71.6M worldwide. Details of the new project are being kept under wraps. Packer has risen as a formidable producer in recent years, earning him the nickname, Will “Power” Packer. His buddy comedy Ride Along opened to a record $48.6M over the four-day Martin Luther King holiday weekend this year for Universal. Sony then scheduled his The Wedding Ringer, which he is producing with Adam Fields, for the MLK holiday in 2015. Wedding Ringer is a Jeremy Garelick-written and -directed comedy starring Hart again. The bankable Packer also produced Think Like a Man, which grossed $96M worldwide.
Charlie Weber (90210) has been cast in ABC/ABC Studios’ drama pilot How To Get Away With Murder. The sexy, suspense-driven legal thriller centers on ambitious law students and their brilliant and mysterious criminal defense professor who become entangled in a murder plot. Weber, repped by Resolution, Vanguard Management and Gregory Slewet, plays an associate of the professor.
Related: 2014 ABC Pilots
Michelle Harrison (the CW’s Emily Owens, MD) has been added to the cast the CW/WBTV/DC pilot The Flash, about scientist Barry Allen (Grant Gustin), who becomes the Fastest Man Alive. She will play the guest starring/recurring role of Barry’s mother, Nora Allen. Repped by Russ Mortensen at Pacific Artists Management.
Related: 2014 The CW Pilots
Red Widow alum Clifton Collins Jr is returning to ABC with a co-starring role alongside Ryan Phillippe, Juliette Lewis and KaDee Strickland in the network’s drama pilot Secrets & Lies, which has a series penalty. It centers on Ben (Phillippe), a family man who becomes the prime suspect in the murder of a young boy when he finds the body. Clifton, repped by Industry Entertainment, Resolution and attorney David Krintzman, will play Ben’s childhood friend and tenant in Ben’s pool house who is unwaveringly supportive of Ben. He most recently was seen in Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim and next appears in Transcendence alongside Johnny Depp.
Private Practice alum Tim Daly will co-star opposite Tea Leoni in CBS’ drama pilot Madam Secretary. The project, written by Barbara Hall, directed by David Semel and exec produced by Morgan Freeman, explores the personal and professional life of a maverick female Secretary of State (Leoni) as she drives international diplomacy, wrangles office politics and balances a complex family life. Daly, repped by UTA, Gateway Management and attorney Howard Abramson, will play her husband Henry, a professor of medieval religious history. He is recurring on two comedies, Fox’s The Mindy Project and TV Land’s Hot In Cleveland, and recently was seen in this year’s Sundance film Low Down.
EXCLUSIVE: In his TV directing debut, The Notebook helmer Nick Cassavetes is set to direct the opening hour of ABC‘s 10-episode drama Astronaut Wives Club, recently picked up for summer with straight-to-series order. The project, from Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage’s Fake Empire, Michael London’s Groundswell Prods and ABC Studios, was written by Savage based on Lily Koppel’s book. It tells the real story of the women who stood beside some of the biggest heroes in American history during the height of the space race, with JoAnna Garcia Swisher set as one of the leads. Fake Empire’s Savage, Schwartz and Len Goldstein executive produce with Groundswell’s London and Janice Williams. Resolution-repped Cassavetes recently wrote and directed indie Yellow. His latest feature is comedy The Other Woman starring Cameron Diaz, Leslie Mann and Kate Upton, opening in April.
Related: 2014 ABC Pilots
Interviews by AwardsLine Editor Christy Grosz and Deputy Editor Anna Lisa Raya.
Here are some of this year’s lesser-known Oscar nominees, whose skills helped make the director’s and actors’ visions come to life. Without their research, technical mastery, or their ability to translate a story into melodies or visual effects, there would be none of the groundbreaking, iconic, historically significant films we’ve seen this past year. These are the real players who toiled in front of and behind the camera to make the 2013 Oscar season one of the best in recent memory.
Julie Delpy, Adapted Screenplay, Before Midnight
AwardsLine: What was the biggest challenge in writing and acting the 14-minute-long opening take?
Delpy: If we were able to do that as an improvised scene, we’d be geniuses. And we’re not geniuses. We work really hard at making it seem flawless, especially writing backstory stuff without seeming on the nose or expository. It’s the hardest part. How do you make it seem like we’re just having a conversation when we’re actually setting up the entire rest of the film, explaining what happened in the past nine years?
EXCLUSIVE: Haley Joel Osment has landed a supporting role in Entourage, the feature transfer that Doug Ellin is directing from his HBO series creation for Warner Bros. Some 13 years removed from The Sixth Sense, Osment joins Jeremy Piven, Billy Bob Thornton, Adrian Grenier, Kevin Dillon and Jerry Ferrara along with the rest of the original TV cast. Ellin and Rob Weiss wrote the screenplay and Mark Wahlberg and Weiss are producing.
Osment gets the role as he finishes production on the Kevin Smith-directed A24 Films comedy Tusk, which will be released in the fall. He recently costarred with Will Ferrell, Tobey Maguire, Tim Robbins and Kristen Wiig in the IFC miniseries, The Spoils Of Babylon and can currently be seen in Amazon Studio’s Alpha House with John Goodman. Osment is repped by The Schiff Company and Resolution with attorney Bill Sobel.
Welcome to the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences Scientific & Technical Awards which were handed out last night during a surprisingly entertaining ceremony at the Beverly Hills Hotel. I have been to just about every different conceivable kind of Academy function over the three decades I have been covering Oscars but this was my first time at this event which the Academy has been doing in one form or another since they started handing them out in the Oscars‘ fourth year, 1930-31. I guess I always thought this might be a rather dull sort of thing to sit through. I barely understand how to get my emails so imagine a ceremony that is all about honoring the ILM Plume System, the Flux gas simulation system, the Zeno application framework, a thesis on the fundamental concepts of deep shadowing technology, the design of the Pneumatic Car Flipper or the Flying-Cam SARAH 3.0 system? And that’s just for starters in a show that handed out a LOT of Technical Achievement certificates, Scientific and Engineering Plaques and even a couple of real Oscar statuettes toward the end of the evening (Peter W. Anderson won one of those as recipient of the Gordon E. Sawyer award this year). But there was a lot of spirit in the room and judging from the whoops and hollers that went for five guys in tuxedos going up to accept for the development of the ASC Color Decision List technology you’d think they just won Best Picture. “When I was a kid nobody told me if I wanted to win an Academy Award I should study mathematics,” one winner said wryly. Like I said this was an entertaining evening, particularly considering the geek factor. And the clips were great too, going a long way to shedding light on just what these unheralded wizards do for the movie industry.
Paula Deen is looking to grow her brand again less than a year after being dropped from her high-profile gig at Food Network. Paula Deen Ventures — which includes Paula Deen Foods, Paula Deen Media, Paula Deen Restaurants, Paula Deen Cookware and Paula Deen Home — is being backed by Najafi Media, the deep-pocketed content and distribution subsidiary of Najafi Cos. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because it is: Founder and CEO Jahm Najafi was the principal investor and financing partner who with Jeff Berg launched Resolution talent agency in January 2013 — the first major full-service agency start-up in almost two decades. Paula Deen Ventures will be run by retail veteran Steven Nanula, who for the last two years led the development of the Paula Deen Food Company.
Nanula told the Wall Street Journal the company is in talks with TV networks and other possible partners, but no deals have been signed. The WSJ says the investment is from $75 million-$100 million.
Najafi is a former Salomon Bros banker active in real estate and private equity. The Phoenix-based firm has been in the mix of several deals as it adds to its entertainment industry holdings, which include ownership stakes in the NBA’s Phoenix Suns, Direct Brands (BMG Music Service, SkyMall, Columbia House and Book Of The Month Club), and Toronto-based recorded media manufacturer Cinram. “All of us at Najafi Companies have a deep respect for the hard work, unique content and quality products which Paula has built around her brand,” Najafi said today in a release announcing the partnership with Deen. “We know that the enterprise will be successful and valuable, as Paula and her team continue to bring quality products and experiences to her loyal fan base; and now we have a proven management team in place to build and lead the organization.”
The activist investor declared victory today as he abandoned his campaign for a shareholder resolution that appeared headed for defeat. His proposal calling for a larger stock buyback – he put $50B as a good target for 2014 — isn’t necessary following “recent actions taken by the company to aggressively repurchase shares in the market,” he writes in an open letter to fellow Apple investors. The company recently bought $14B of stock in just two weeks, influential proxy advisory firm Institutional Shareholder Services observed in a new report urging Apple stockholders to oppose Icahn’s resolution at the company’s February 28 annual meeting. ISS noted that Apple’s on track to buy $32B of its stock this year which means Icahn “only asks the board to spend another $18 billion on repurchases in the current year.” New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer also said that he planned to vote the city-owned shares against the resolution. The billionaire says that while he’s “disappointed” with ISS’ recommendation, “we do not altogether disagree.” As a result, he says, “we see no reason to persist with our non-binding proposal, especially when the company is already so close to fulfilling our requested repurchase target.” Icahn praises Apple chief Tim Cook’s efforts to boost the stock price and says that the CEO and the company board appear to agree that Apple’s “extremely undervalued, …