Here are some of the stories that the Hollywood industry is buzzing about and some that they will be after reading this column.
Ryan Gosling’s $20 Million Payday for “Ken” in the Barbie Movie
Have you been paying attention to the moves Ryan Gosling has been making lately? After initially turning down the role of Ken in Greta Gerwig‘s Barbie movie starring Margot Robbie, sources say Gosling’s reps negotiated a massive payday north of $20 million for the Oscar-nominated actor.
Just days later, Gosling recruited one of his most gifted collaborators for his modern-day Wolfman movie at Universal, which had lost director Leigh Whannell earlier this year. Sensitive indie filmmaker Derek Cianfrance is one of the last guys who comes to mind for big studio assignments, but upon deeper reflection, he’s an inspired choice for this kind of movie, and hopefully, it goes better for him than 2010’s The Wolfman went for its original director, Mark Romanek.
Cianfrance previously worked with Gosling on the acclaimed dramas Blue Valentine and The Place Beyond the Pines, and though he stumbled with his adaptation of The Light Between Oceans, he rebounded with the brilliant HBO series I Know This Much Is True, which brought star Mark Ruffalo all kinds of awards. Cianfrance simply knows how to get the best out of his actors, who seem to trust him — and that trust radiates in the performances themselves. The director sounds excited about the chance to put his spin on the classic monster movie, and though I loved what Whannell did with The Invisible Man, I think Cianfrance’s hiring is a huge coup for this modern-day Wolfman project.
Deconstructing the Tragic Cost of Alec Baldwin’s Movie “Rust”
Just as Hollywood was preparing to grapple with big ideas surrounding Dave Chappelle‘s latest Netflix special and the new cost of creative freedom, an old topic has unfortunately resurfaced and become the industry’s latest top priority — gun safety on set. By now, you’ve likely read all about Halyna Hutchins (pictured above), a rising young cinematographer who was killed on the New Mexico set of an independent movie titled Rust starring Alec Baldwin. Her death was senseless and easily preventable, which makes it all the more tragic.
After all, it was nearly 30 years ago that Brandon Lee was killed on the set of The Crow, and while his death led to meaningful reform within the industry, Hollywood has yet to truly learn the lesson of that fateful night. Movies, and independent movies, in particular, are shot on such a tight schedule that many productions are forced to rush and cut corners in order to make their day. But when there are guns on set, you can’t afford to cut corners.Now, I’m not going to blast armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed as a nepotism hire because I happen to think that’s a lazy argument, and frankly, so is the one about her age, too. But if experience is what matters, it sure doesn’t sound like Gutierrez-Reed had enough of it. Now, how much is “enough” experience? I couldn’t speak to that. But if she’s going on podcasts and professing self-doubt about her own abilities, that speaks to possible criminal negligence, either on her part for misrepresenting her level of expertise, or, if she didn’t embellish her background, then on the part of the producers who saw fit to hire her. That group includes Baldwin, and clearly, they need to be held legally and financially accountable.
But there are several other factors in play here. On Facebook, two producers I have great respect for — Mynette Louie and Nina Yang Bongiovi — decried the devaluation of the “producer credit” and how it’s being used as a negotiating tactic in order to get a project made. It’s seen as a glamorous job, but producers are responsible for more than casting and budgetary matters. They’re responsible for vetting the entire crew and ensuring the safety of everyone on set. When you’re on a set, people tend to assume that their colleagues know what they’re doing, so no one wants to risk being seen as a pain in the ass by asking questions. Instead, they put their lives in the hands of stunt professionals and prop masters that they trust the producing team to vet. Clearly, safety was a secondary concern on the set of Rust.
The other thing that should concern everyone is that we likely never would’ve heard about any of these shenanigans had Hutchins not been killed. We’d never know that the crew walked off the set that morning, or that actors were, unbeknownst to them, handling live ammo. It all would’ve been swept under the rug, because people in this business are conditioned to keep their mouths shut and not rock the boat. Whether it’s set safety or sexual harassment or bad behavior from the boss, we’re been trained to stay silent and not bite the hand that feeds us. And it’s profoundly sad that it took a young woman’s death to deliver the tragic wake-up call that Hollywood has long needed.
I don’t know what the answer is. I don’t know how a real gun photographs on-camera versus a rubber gun, or how much it would cost to add in the muzzle flash in post. All I know is that Halyna Hutchins was a rising star in this business, and she had a bright future ahead of her given her sterling reputation. She could’ve gone on to become one of the great DPs, or perhaps she would’ve directed a film herself. But we’ll never know. All because the series of checks and balances that should’ve been in place to protect her were ignored. There was a systemic failure on the set of Rust, and it ended up costing someone their life. It cost someone their wife. It cost a young boy his mother. And no movie is worth that.
The Fraserssance Has Hit Hollywood
First there was a Travoltaissance. Then there was a McConaissance. And now the Fraserssance is upon us, as Brendan Fraser has signed on to play the villain Firefly in DC’s Batgirl movie, capping quite a comeback for the 52-year-old actor.
Fraser has long been underrated despite starring in films as varied as Encino Man, School Ties, Gods and Monsters, and my personal favorite, Airheads, before landing the lead in The Mummy franchise, which remains what he’s best known for. He’s always had a unique range, and though he appeared among the star-studded ensemble of Crash, he couldn’t capitalize on its controversial Oscar win for Best Picture. Instead, he seemed to reach a point in his career where Hollywood just didn’t know what to do with him anymore, and a string of forgettable films followed.
Fraser filled out a bit — time is a fickle mistress to even the most beautiful of Hollywood stars — but his new physique gave him a bit more character, and Hollywood has been lining up to work with him ever since. His comeback began with a role in Danny Boyle‘s FX series Trust, followed by his casting as Robotman on Doom Patrol, which is yet another DC property on HBO Max, where Batgirl will also premiere. Meanwhile, after working with Steven Soderbergh on No Sudden Move, Fraser was tapped to work with Martin Scorsese on Killers of the Flower Moon and Darren Aronofsky on A24’s feature adaptation of the acclaimed play The Whale, and you’ll also be able to see him alongside Josh Brolin and Peter Dinklage in Legendary’s upcoming comedy Brothers. Not too shabby, eh?
Dune: Part Two: Here’s What We Think (So Far)
The Dune sequel has been greenlit by Legendary and Warner Bros. for an exclusive theatrical release in October 2023. The first film grossed $41 million at the domestic box office over its opening weekend, but only 1.9 million people watched Part One on HBO Max this weekend, which seems low, given the streamer’s recent growth. It’s unclear how many of those households would’ve actually gone to see the film in theaters, plus, I’m sure that people who did patronize theaters went home and watched the film again on HBO Max.
While Dune: Part One did perform a bit better at the box office than expected, I can’t imagine it would’ve opened to more than $65 million under the best of box office circumstances, which means that at the end of the day, this is likely to be a significant loss for Warner Bros., which foot the bill for marketing along with 20% of the film’s budget. That figure has been widely reported as $165 million, but that just means everyone is getting it from the same source — the studio, which rarely has an incentive to tell the truth, especially given how fuzzy Hollywood math is. Who knows how many millions more were spent to buy out the backend deals of key participants?
The decision to move forward with Dune: Part Two struck me as stubborn and maybe even a little reckless, but I don’t look to get hung up too much on monetary matters, as it’s not my money being spent. Plus, Warners and Legendary may convince themselves that the losses are an investment in the larger Dune brand, which in addition to the sequel, will also include a TV series spinoff on HBO Max about the sisterhood of the Bene Gesserit. As speculated in some corners, you have to imagine that Legendary convinced Warners to pick up a bigger portion of the tab when it comes to Part Two, but still, it seems like chasing bad money with bad money.
Guest columnist Jeff Sneider has written and reported for entertainment publications such as Variety, TheWrap and Collider.