“The Hunt” is hardly the first controversial film to get canceled, and it won't be the last. Violent, politicized entertainment isn't a groundbreaking concept, but given the ever-more blurred lines between politics and entertainment and under the influence of daily social media grievance cycles, carefully marketing controversial projects is becoming increasingly important for film and television distributors.
Case in point: two upcoming television projects, HBO’s “Watchmen” and Fox’s “Almost Family”, both deal with hot-button issues and could be in a similar line of fire as “The Hunt.” To date, the two shows are taking vastly different approaches to quelling concerns.
“Watchmen,” the acclaimed graphic novel, is getting a television adaption on HBO in October. The series will take place in contemporary America, several decades after the comic book's plot, and will focus on the aftereffects of a white supremacist group terrorizing police officers.
Since “Watchmen” premieres in October, HBO's heavy marketing for the series is still a few weeks away. That said, an HBO spokesperson said they were confident with their marketing plans for the series and do not plan on changing their strategy in response to recent real-world events.
“HBO has a long history of championing thought-provoking storytelling like ‘Watchmen,’ a blend of fantastical science fiction and political/social commentary which is based on the original iconic graphic novel,” the spokesperson told IndieWire in a statement. “We have approached the marketing of ‘Watchmen’ with great care from the outset. The first two trailers for the series have already been released and our future materials will continue in the same vein. There are no current plans to er the marketing strategy in any significant way.”
Regardless, even if the series' marketing to date de-emphasizes its more controversial themes, its handling of white supremacist terrorism and policing will inevitably be brought up by reporters and critics when series creator Damon Lindelof and others begin doing more press for the show.
Though Lindelof's representatives did not return requests for comment, he is prepared; he received several questions about the series' dramatization of white supremacist terrorism during the “Watchmen” panel at TCA in late July. He noted that the original “Watchmen” comic also directly addressed then-contemporary political issues and said his upcoming HBO series would similarly deal with topics that are relevant to American audiences in 2019.
“The 'Watchmen' comic was about what was happening in American culture at the time,” Lindeholf said at TCA. “What, in 2019, is the equivalent of the nuclear standoff between the Russians and the United States? And it just felt like it was undeniably race and policing in America. And so that idea started to graft itself into the 'Watchmen' universe and needed to be presented in a responsible way.”
So far, nothing revealed about “Watchmen” has been as nakedly pandering as the references to “deplorables” and “elites” in “The Hunt.” While the mere mention of white supremacist villains in “Watchmen” spawned the predictable kinds of pushback and vitriol in the cesspool that is every online comment section, the upcoming series has yet to provoke any anger worth taking seriously.
On the polar opposite end of the spectrum you have Fox's “Almost Family,” a lighthearted drama about half siblings who learn they are related because a fertility doctor used his own sperm to conceive at least 100 children throughout his career. The series has been mired in controversy since its announcement, and the show's creators – who include Annie Weisman and Jason Katims – have failed to alleviate concerns about its premise of nonconsensual insemination.
Defending how your television show won't focus on the “medical rape”—a term used by reporters during the show's TCA panel—that inspires the series' entire plot in the era of #MeToo is, by most measures, not exactly a great way to generate positive buzz. IndieWire has reached out to Fox.
Studios axing projects in the face of considerable controversy seems inevitable in the face of corporate profits and moronic Tweetstorms, but the significant financial costs of doing so could be mitigated by carefully marketing these projects at the outset. In short: be more like HBO and own it, and be less like Fox, who seems surprised by the backlash.
HBO Max's Anna Kendrick-led comedy Love Life is rounding out its cast.
The WarnerMedia streaming platform, which launches in 2020, has added four actors to the rom-com anthology. Zoe Chao, Sasha Compere and Peter Vack will all be regulars alongside Kendrick, and Scott McNairy will have a recurring part.
Love Life, created by Sam Boyd In a Relationship and executive produced by Paul Feig and Kendrick who teamed on A Simple Favor, will follow a different protagonist each season on the journey from first love to last love, with each half-hour episode chronicling one of their relationships. The first season will center on Kendrick's Darby, who runs a "historically significant butts" tour for a company headed by McNairy's Bradley.
Chao The OA, Facebook Watch's Strangers will play Sara, Darby's best friend and roommate since college. She's sweet and big-hearted but sometimes shows bad judgment. Sara is in a long-term relationship with Jim Vack and has appointed herself Darby's relationship coach, but her own love life is less stable than she realizes.
Compere Miracle Workers plays Mallory, Darby's outspoken roommate who uses her dry sense of humor and bluntness to tell Darby the hard truths she sometimes needs to hear.
Vack's The Bold Type, Someone Great Jim is a staffer at Politico is easygoing but has an edge. His and Sara's relationship is something Darby aspires to, but it also runs hot and cold and may not be built to last forever.
Bradley McNairy, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Halt and Catch Fire owns the museum tour company where Darby works. It's a successful business, and he has a stunning fiance — but also a roving eye that's currently fixed on Darby.
Love Life is produced by Lionsgate TV and FeigCo Entertainment, with Kendrick, Feig, Boyd, Jessie Henderson and Bridget Bedard executive producing. Dan Magnante is a co-exec producer.
The series is part of an HBO Max originals lineup that also includes modern Greek mythology drama Circe; a Gossip Girl update; Dune: The Sisterhood; The Flight Attendant from Greg Berlanti and starring Kaley Cuoco; comedy Made for Love, starring Cristin Milioti; noir drama Tokyo Vice; limited series Station Eleven; comedy Starstruck from comedian Rose Matafeo; and an animated Gremlins series. Season two of Doom Patrol will stream simultaneously on HBO Max and DC Universe.
Over the weekend, Universal announced that it would be canceling the release of “The Hunt,” an upcoming thriller produced by Blumhouse, due to a storyline involving shooters that was deemed inappropriate following mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, in which at least 31 people were killed. In a statement, the studio said, “Now is not the time to release this film.” In response to the decision, IndieWire’s Eric Kohn and David Ehrlich traded thoughts on the decision.
ERIC KOHN: It’s 2019. Don’t the movies have enough to worry about? Declining box office and the looming shadow of the streaming wars have put the medium on edge; now, it’s being scapegoated by the so-called leader of the free world. Of course, Donald Trump’s moronic tweet-storm in which he singled out “The Hunt” as an example of “liberal Hollywood” attempting to “inflame and cause chaos” is just another means of deflection, an attempt to cast the nation’s biggest problems onto a convenient target.
But it kind of worked: Universal has canceled plans to release “The Hunt,” a movie about wealthy one-percenters who pay big bucks to hunt a dozen people dropped into a clearing.
Setting the Trump propaganda spin aside, many well-meaning people have nodded their heads in somber agreement with the decision. After all, maybe this is not the best time for a movie about lunatics with guns, killing innocent people, when the trauma of very real lunatics with guns doing just that in El Paso and Dayton looms large in the public’s memory.
And yet: Is there ever a right time to engage with this subject? After all, “The Hunt” is an adaptation of Richard Cornell’s short story “A Most Dangerous Game,” published in 1924. That should give you an idea of just how much this potent narrative about human-on-human acts of aggression has remained relevant over the years. Violence is one of the touchiest subjects in American culture, and we only empower it by refusing to confront the matter head-on. If Universal, which had already put significant money behind the project, wanted to show real solidarity with the victims, it might consider what sort of message it’s sending by essentially erasing this subject matter from our screens. The studio is risk-averse enough to realize that releasing “The Hunt” could lead to terrible optics — but in this particular case, it’s also letting the bad guys win. There must have been a middle ground on this.
DAVID EHRLICH: I appreciate why this situation put Universal in a bind, and I don't envy the studio's executives for the hard decision they had to make about this movie. But — and I can't stress this enough — I really don't care. They were asked to pay the price for making socially conscious satire in the demented year of our lord 2019, and they refused to foot the bill.
Of course, it's a bit of a leap for me to refer to “The Hunt” as “socially conscious satire,” because — much like Donald Trump and the “Fox & Friends” hosts who talk to him through his television like he's some kind of sub-mental Truman Burbank — I haven't seen “The Hunt,” and couldn't tell you the first thing about what it's really trying to say. Yes, there's a world of difference between Craig Zobel and S. Craig Zahler, and it's hard to imagine that the production company that brought you “Get Out” is suddenly repping for the racists, but the fact of the matter is that the movie itself really doesn't matter. This isn't about sensitivity or inflaming public trauma. It isn't even about saving money on marketing costs or getting ahead of a box office bomb, even if it's hard to imagine why anyone in America would pay $15 to watch people indiscriminately slaughter each other with assault rifles when they already get to see that for free every week.
This is about a major Hollywood studio conceding to a world in which the President of the United States can use the potential threat of White Nationalism — of his own fanbase — as a cudgel with which to exert his influence on the culture. When theater chains refused to play “The Interview,” it was because anonymous internet trolls had threatened to commit acts of terror during screenings, and no sane business would leave themselves vulnerable to that kind of violence. That threat was likely unfounded. This one is not. Universal only made the decision to cancel “The Hunt” in order to seize control of the narrative and prevent theater chains from doing the inevitable. At a time when mass shooters are writing manifestos that are indistinguishable from the President's rally speeches, Universal knew that Trump would have spent the next six weeks pouring gas on the fire.
Releasing “The Hunt” may have been bad for the studio, but cancelling “The Hunt” is bad for everything. Trump, who only cares about results, gets positive reinforcement that he wields more power in a country where everyone is afraid of each other. The media, who only cares about optics, gets to further a wag-the-dog worldview that has turned America into a country that simply breaks the nearest mirror whenever it feels too ugly to look at itself. Remember last week when Walmart responded to the El Paso shooting by banning video game displays, but continuing to sell actual guns? And the masses, who only care about getting through the day in one piece, get to see another opportunity for real change diluted by a petty distraction.
Yes, Universal was in a tough spot. But the problem isn't a movie that shows Americans shooting each other. The problem is a President who encourages it. And until someone makes that clear, the whole country is going to feel like prey.
ERIC KOHN: I think you’re touching on the bigger issue here: Not only is Universal making an odd call with respect to this particular movie in this particular situation; it’s setting an awful precedent. Because movies have the capacity to show us the world in a narrative context, those stories can be reduced to their simplest ingredients by anyone with an agenda. It was all too easy for a rival distributor to sabotage the Oscar campaign for “Zero Dark Thirty” by proclaiming that the movie promoted torture methods. “Depiction is not endorsement,” Kathryn Bigelow pleaded, but it was too late: The movie was vilified.
So it goes with “The Hunt”: Trump is basically hitting on a new tactic for blaming all the world’s problems on the movies. At some point he could even start digging into the past. Fifty years ago, Lindsay Anderson’s “If…” ended with students raging militant war on their campus, and that movie was released by Paramount. And the madness doesn’t have to stop there. What’s Netflix going to do once Trump decides that “The Irishman” glorifies crime?
The big takeaway from all this is that we can’t expect corporate America to fight back. The saving grace of “The Interview” fiasco wasn’t Sony itself stepping up to get the movie out there; it was the communal resolve of art house theaters around the country, who came together to push the movie into a DIY release strategy. And ironically, the headlines associated with that movement elevated “The Interview” in a manner that no marketing plan could manufacture. Pushing back on these pressures turns out to be not just a moral imperative; it’s good business. If Universal can’t see that it, it ought to hand off “The Hunt” to someone who does.
Big picture time: Most movies face an uphill battle to get noticed by anyone at all. One can only hope that all this hubbub draws more attention to the work of “The Hunt” director Craig Zobel, whose “Great World of Sound” and “Compliance” both tackle the complex paradoxes of American identity — the way scam artists so easily prey on good intentions. And that’s certainly what the scam artist in the White House seems to have done here.
After Friends briefly hits theaters next month, it will leave its streaming home at Netflix in 2020 and move to WarnerMedia’s HBO Max. The Office, meanwhile, is also leaving the challenged streaming juggernaut for NBC’s forthcoming follow-up to its shuttered Seeso platform. So, to put things plainly, a whole bunch of “classic” broadcast programs are about to be shuffled around amid some massive deals, and now it seems Chuck Lorre’s The Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men are about to join the mix.
According to Deadline, WarnerMedia “had been looking to secure Warner Bros. TV’s latest comedy blockbuster” in a deal that many “expected to cross the $1 billion mark.” However, industry sources are now indicating that The Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men, both of which Lorre co-created, executive produced and showran, are being packaged together in a deal that could “[fetch] as much as $1.5 billion.” The reported price is so high, Deadline notes, because of how limited the pair’s exposure to streaming has been so far. That, and “stipulations” in Lorre’s deals for each show.
Whatever ends up happening with these two shows and their potentially costing WarnerMedia a solid chunk of change, one thing is clear: Young Sheldon is the real loser here.
n the heels of scoring 5 Primetime Emmy nominations for its freshman run, including Outstanding Drama Series, HBO’s family saga Succession returned for a second season on Sunday to a series high 1.2 million premiere night viewers across HBO's linear network and digital platforms.
That was up +32% from the viewership for Succession‘s series premiere night 918,000 viewers and +22% from the nightly audience for the Season 1 finale 997,000 viewers.
The Season 2 opener averaged 612,000 viewers at 9 PM on HBO, up +5% from the Season 1 premiere, indicating that most of the premiere night gains came from digital viewing. In linear Live+ same day premiere ratings, the series high mark still belongs to the Season 1 finale, 730,000 viewers
Created by Jesse Armstrong and executive produced by The Big Short's Adam McKay, Season 2 of Succession follows the Roy family as they struggle to retain control of their empire, and while the future looks increasingly uncertain, it is the past that threatens ultimately to destroy them.
The Season 2 cast includes Brian Cox, Jeremy Strong, Hiam Abbass, Sarah Snook, Kieran Culkin, Alan Ruck, Nicholas Braun, Matthew Macfadyen, Peter Friedman, Rob Yang, J. Smith Cameron, Dagmara Dominczyk and Arian Moayed. Holly Hunter is recurring.
Succession is executive produced by Armstrong, McKay, Frank Rich, Kevin Messick, Will Ferrell, Jane Tranter, Mark Mylod and Tony Roche. Armstrong also serves as showrunner.
e've always known that when it comes to impressions, Bill Hader can do anyone.
But for those who don’t know, what he wonderfully flaunts in season 2 of HBO's Barry is his riveting finesse for directing action scenes across two episodes, “ronny/lily” and the finale “berkman>block”, literally reminiscent of James Mangold’s work on Logan and Michael Mann’s cinematic crime oeuvre.
It’s a wonderful evolution for Hader who started off as a PA on such action pics as Dwayne Johnson’s Scorpion King and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Collateral Damage, and is now the guy who gets to call “action”.
Hader's Emmy-nominated directed and written episode “ronny/lily” follows the actor's hitman Barry, who after being blackmailed by Detective John Loach John Pirruccello, is forced to take Ronny Proxin Daniel Bernhardt, the guy who is having an affair with Loach’s wife. Barry breaks into Ronny’s house, and asks him kindly to leave town. But it turns out that Ronny is an award-winning martial arts master. Ronny and Barry brawl, and just when it looks like the latter has the upper hand, he’s ambushed by the guy's daughter Lily Jessie Giacomazzi, an 11-year old karate dynamo who makes Dafne Keen's girl wolverine stunts as Laura in Mangold's Logan look like child's play Lily literally bites off the face of Barry's partner in crime, Fuches. It's a hysterical chase sequence, beginning in a smoky, blasé suburban home, continuing into the streets and ending with a crash at a grocery store. Clouseau and Cato could not have done more damage in the Pink Panther movies.
For season 2, Barry is nominated for 15 Emmys, Hader owning four of those in the categories of Best Comedy Series, Best Lead Comedy Actor, Directing, and Writing.
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