There are plenty of revelations in Michael Bamberger’s new book about director M. Night Shyamalan. The strangest is that in his new film, "Lady in the Water," Shyamalan briefly considered replacing Oscar nominee and indie-film favorite Paul Giamatti with … Kevin Costner. He even checked his availability at one point. Right away, you know something is off with Shyamalan.
You know the name M. Night Shyamalan from the third film he directed, “The Sixth Sense.” It was a sleeper for Disney and Bruce Willis, going on to make millions and enter the cultural vernacular, thanks to the line uttered by Haley Joel Osment: “I see dead people.”
Disney went with Shyamalan in a big way. They next made “Unbreakable,” which was a dud, and “Signs,” which ripped off Alfred Hitchcock.
More recently came “The Village,” another flop that brought all of us press to a premiere in Brooklyn that was scary only for how long it took to get a cab home.
The biggest surprise at the time was not in the film, but that Michael Eisner — who was then in a lot of tumultuous situations — attended it.
But Disney isn’t stupid. They got out of making “Lady in the Water” by offering the director only $60 million in all. Shyamalan declined, and now Warner Bros. will release the film on Friday. The budget was $75 million.
No one I’ve talked to likes this movie. Two nights ago, Warner Bros. held a premiere at the American Museum of Natural History and banned all columnists from attending. One reporter from The New York Times was invited, but she was instructed not to speak to the press.
Even Ron Howard, father of star Bryce Dallas Howard, skipped the event, a rarity for him. He must have been tipped off.
Surprisingly, only Variety and the Hollywood Reporter were allowed to cover the premiere. After all, the Variety reviewer, Brian Lowry, said "Lady in the Water" was “a ponderous, self-indulgent bedtime tale. Awkwardly positioned, this gloomy gothic fantasy falls well short of horror, leaving grim theatrical prospects beyond whatever curiosity the filmmaker's reputation and the mini-controversy can scare up.”
The Hollywood Reporter was kinder, but eventually Kirk Honeycutt gets around to the business at hand. “The film utterly fails,” he concludes.
Warner Bros. owns up to the $75 million budget for “Lady,” which probably means $100 million, with another $50 million for prints and advertising. That’s a $150 million write-off if they can’t convince audiences that early reviews are wrong.
Of course, the studio is still wrangling with the “Superman Returns” dilemma, as the failed blockbuster peters out around $170 million domestically.
But now things get interesting. Last night, Disney fired Nina Jacobson, the executive who almost made “Lady.” This is on the eve of the publication of Bamberger's new book about Shyamalan called “The Man Who Heard Voices: Or, How M. Night Shyamalan Risked His Career on a Fairy Tale,” which describes how the movie was planned, and how it ultimately switched studios.
Jacobson doesn't have the greatest taste — she made the Kate Hudson movie “Raising Helen.” But according to Bamberger’s book, she at least confessed early on, after reading the sixth draft of “Lady,” that she had no idea what it was about.
Now the ball is in Warner's court — and if “Lady” becomes a total disaster, the Warner Bros. crowd may be looking for their own scapegoat. The method would be easy — see if anyone can explain the film.
Record Biz Crisis: Top 20 Misses 750G
The top 20 pop albums sold fewer than a total of 750,000 CDs last week.
You read that correctly. The actual total was 738,211. The number includes 220,000 copies of a greatest hits singles collection from all the labels, "Now That's What I Call Music! Vol. 22." Without “Now 22,” regular releases came in around 500,000 copies.
This is a crisis that no one acknowledges in the record business. But consider that recently dismissed Sony execs Donnie Ienner and Michelle Anthony were making $2 million a year, and that their income is typical of upper echelon management in any record company. If the half million CDs sold at full price — $15 — then they didn’t even pay for a small part of one salary.
Consider also the execs at radio conglomerates, who have tightened playlists so that few new records are played unless — as identified by New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer’s findings — stations receive free trips, gadgets and other gifts as inducements. You might wonder how any of the companies on either side can afford to stay in business.
Consider that last Tuesday, “Now 22” was not the only new release. Sony/Epic issued a new CD by writer-producer Butch Walker, a performer whom this column has extolled over and over. Not only did no one from the company bother to send it here, this reporter only learned about it by accident — yesterday.
Walker should have a following from his extensive touring — he produces and opens for Avril Lavigne. But he’s been ignored by his label and radio. What’s he supposed to do? The CD sold fewer than 15,535 copies — the minimum it would have taken to hit the top 50.
And here’s an amazing statistic: four songs from the new album have been played a total of 200,000 times on Walker’s MySpace page. I doubt this is the work of one person who clicked the links that many times. Some group of people is interested in Butch Walker. They’re just not a group that his label or radio stations are interested in, apparently.
If they were, there would be more of an investment in Walker’s career — and other countless talented artists like him — by the record companies. Instead, the record stores are empty, and customers are drifting toward other entertainment.
There isn’t a lot to look forward to right away in terms of new releases: Rapper DMX has a new album on Aug. 1, but his last one was three years ago. Rocker Tom Petty’s waited four years to put out his new CD, and the last one wasn’t exactly a bestseller, with fewer than 350,000 copies sold.
Yesterday’s crop of new releases has only one promising title, by Los Lonely Boys, whose previous album sold 2 million copies. All eyes will be on them to see if they can beat their last first week sales record: 4,000 copies. That shouldn’t be too hard. Or Music, a satellite label from Epic, sticks with their artists the way most labels do not.
Last night’s soiree for legendary soul man Sam Moore proved to be a great reunion. That’s because Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun made a surprise appearance at Pre:Post in New York, where Moore was giving media and friends an early listen of his new “Overnight Sensational” album due Aug. 29 from Rhino.
Also on hand was producer Randy Jackson, who flew in from California for the event, plus model Irina Pantaeva, documentary filmmaker DA Pennebaker and “One Life to Live” star Bob Woods with wife, Loyita.
The wall-to-wall crowd gave several ovations at the end of many tracks, including “I Can’t Stand the Rain,” with Wynonna Judd, and “You Are So Beautiful,” featuring its composer Billy Preston on vocals and keyboards and Eric Clapton on guitar.
Ertegun, now in his 80s, ran Atlantic when Moore was the motor in duo Sam & Dave — and their hits included “Soul Man,” “Hold On, I’m Coming” and “When Something Is Wrong With My Baby.”
Usually he’s accompanied by an assistant or a couple of lovely young things, but last night he rolled on his own — and his reaction to the album was visceral.
“I’m going to make sure this album is handled correctly,” he declared.
He must have seen this week’s charts. But not to worry — Starbucks has already taken 50,000 copies of “Overnight Sensational,” and it expects the album to sell out quickly.