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Entertainment Industry Pushes for New COVID-19 Relief Package

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A letter to Congress on Monday from the Motion Picture Association, SAG-AFTRA and other groups calls for hiring incentives, changes to the tax code and a new federal insurance program.

As COVID-19 cases continue to rise sharply in many states including California, Hollywood is demanding that federal lawmakers step up with new legislation to help save the entertainment business. In a letter that went out on Monday to Congressional leaders, prominent industry groups have outlined policies from hiring incentives to a federal insurance program they’d like to see enacted.

“These policies would help jumpstart domestic film and television production, encourage hiring and ameliorate the higher costs that must be undertaken to protect our industry’s workforce,” states the letter signed by the leaders of the Motion Picture Association, the Directors Guild of America, the Independent Film & Television Alliance, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and SAG-AFTRA.

The specific call comes as lawmakers get ready to debate a third major COVID relief package. Previously, the CARES Act provided direct payments to Americans earning below a certain income as well as forgivable loans to small businesses, among other facets.

This time, entertainment groups are supporting broad incentives to employers hiring workers. They say that work opportunity tax credits should also be available to employers who rehire workers who had previously worked for them.

The letter to federal lawmakers, obtained by The Hollywood Reporter, also includes directed proposals that would be of particular benefit to the entertainment sector. For example, lawmakers are being called upon to modify an aspect of tax code pertaining to domestic production. Under Section 181, any production that meets certain basic qualifications can deduct the first $15 million of the cost against federal tax obligations. One idea thrown out is that this section be expanded with the cap changing to $15 million or 50 percent of overall production costs, whichever is greatest. Another option deals with Section 168(k), a full expensing allowance for bonus depreciation that is set to be phased out in the coming years. The entertainment industry puts this portion of the tax code on the table with proposed modifications like allowing production costs to be deducted as incurred (instead of when films are exhibited), eliminating a 44-episode limit for television production, and allowing application to acquisition of so-called “used” films.

The goal would be to quickly inject liquidity into the business.

Additionally, SAG-AFTRA and other industry groups have an eye on allowing performing artists to deduct their own unreimbursed employment expenses. At the moment, the tax code permits this only for low-income workers ($16,000 or less), but the letter states, “We ask Congress to pass the Performing Artist Tax Parity Act (HR 3121), which will raise the maximum income cap to $100,000 for individual filers and $200,000 for joint filers.”

Perhaps the biggest proposal pertains to the request for a new federal insurance program to cover pandemic-related losses. Although the letter doesn’t go into detail, it sets up a larger conversation.

“The ability of our industry to return to active production, whether on set or on location, is severely compromised by the inability to purchase insurance to cover losses stemming from communicable diseases amongst cast, crew, and others involved in the production,” states the letter. “This insurance has been available in the past and is essential to the decisions by banks and others to risk investment in a film or program that may be shut down while a single member of the cast recovers from illness or as a result of civil authority order unrelated to the specific production. Without it, production – especially independent production – cannot resume on a significant level. We urge Congress to develop a program of federal insurance (or guarantee to fill this gap) to cover pandemic-related business losses in the future.”

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‘Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker’ Oscar nominations prove that an immersive experience can hide a movie’s flaws

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The Oscar nominations are in, and ‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’ is up for three awards. The movie itself has met with mixed reviews, with some pointing out the film’s vast number of plot holes and unexplained loose threads. In the age of the blockbusters, however, the spectacle can more than make up for weak writing when it comes to making it an Oscar-worthy experience. 

‘Rise of Skywalker’ may win the ‘Star Wars’ franchise its first Oscar since ‘Return of the Jedi’ (1983). It’s been nominated in three categories – the Award for Best Visual Effects, Best Original Music Score, and Sound Editing, giving the ‘Star Wars’ franchise a new hope for an Oscar win after 40 years. While there were many fans who were disappointed by the ending to the nine-movie Skywalker saga, most agreed that it was an engrossing experience once the story was set aside. Where the movie’s writing was a mess, its focus on its more technical aspects was impeccable. 

Of course, one would expect no less from composer John Williams, who has been bringing in Oscar nominations and one win for the ‘Star Wars’ franchise from its very first movie with ‘A New Hope.’ While ‘Star Wars’ as a franchise seems confused about what makes a good ‘Star Wars’ story, the ‘Star Wars’ aesthetic and style has maintained a certain consistency across all nine movies. 

The Oscar nominations highlight the need for the Oscars’ many varied categories – not just for the vital recognition of the people who work so hard to make a film, but also to remind people that while certain aspects of a movie may be disappointing, there are aspects that can turn even the worst-written movie into an unforgettable experience. 

The Oscar Awards ceremony will be held on February 9, 2020, at 6:30 pm EST.

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Is James Corden the best replacement for Ellen? These terrible reviews shed a dim light on ‘mean’ British host

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It’s been five years since James Corden took the reins of ‘The Late Late Show with James Corden’ — a late-night television talk show on CBS — and was soon buttoned-down as the happy-go-lucky dude on TV who relied more on celebrity cameos than clever humor. In a bombshell report, he may soon replace the face of TV host Ellen Degeneres’ late show following her “toxic workplace” scandal.

After being slammed as a “mean host”, she was accused of turning a blind eye to racism, bullying and sexual harassment on her hit daytime show. Even after her public apology, rumors are rife that she may quit the series and the staff at NBC has allegedly said that the 62-year-old may not have renewed the show before the latest controversy hit. A source told US Weekly, said: “Staffers are texting and calling each other freaking out as they fear Ellen [DeGeneres] will quit or that the show will be canceled. The show feels done. It’s going to be very hard to turn this around.”

According to The Sun, insiders at the show’s network say that Corden was seen as “the long term successor” to Ellen much before the outrageous reports of wrongdoing came into the public light. 

TV personality Ellen DeGeneres (Getty Images)

Said to be a “huge fan of James”, NBC Entertainment Chairman Paul Telegdy has had him “‘high on his wanted list for talent and a long term replacement for Ellen,” a source told The Sun. “James Corden was being eyed for Ellen’s job in the long term before any of this came to light. This issue has fast-tracked everything and made everyone look at the future today,” the insider said. “Currently his CBS deal is only contracted until 2022 after he turned down a five-year deal.” What’s more, the source also called him a “natural fit” and “easy transition”.

With rumors flying around, the next big question that pops in most minds is: Is Corden any better than Ellen, or is he a rude TV show host too? A Twitter thread claims, he is “not nice” in real life. “I just searched “James Corden rude” and immediately found this TripAdvisor review of his show lol,” the tweet reads along with a screenshot about how he seemed to be “more annoyed than happy with his job” and the viewers also said he was “arrogant in real life but so much fun in front of the camera”.

That made us put our detective hat on and channel our inner Sherlock Holmes to get to the bottom of the case. On further inspection, we looked at the TripAdvisor Reviews from the show held at CBS Television City, Los Angeles, and found many more such reactions. 

“We used to love James Corden until we went to see a taping of the show. He comes out and completely ignores the audience. He is definitely NOT the person he portrays on TV. Do not waste your time here. We did other tours and or TV shows and they were much better organized and the hosts interact and actually speak with the audience like we are human beings,” one 2017 comment read.

Another experience from March 2018 was described as: “Seriously, anyone who can’t see through this nonsense needs their head feeling. A very unfunny, untalented British guy putting on a dodgy American accent. We are all aware that these programs are scripted, but this is just an insult to your intelligence, and is a true sign of the times that talent is no clear indication for success, more right place right time or perhaps those who you know?”

James Corden (Getty Images)

One fan said that they were even forced to laugh at the jokes. “Went to the taping on 9/26. Was one of the last 5 picked. Decent experience. Could not hear much of James nor his guest that well. Jokes were OK but you are asked to laugh regardless. I always felt that James Corden was a people person, yet at the show felt different. Hardly any audience interaction. James appeared on stage and once done he left. Did not greet nor thank the fans which I was shocked. Overall decent,” the comment read.

Comparing Corden to Jimmy Kimmel, one said, “If you’re going to pick a show, the Kimmel experience is WAY better than Corden. This includes all the staff (Corden people just stood in line and talked among themselves while the Kimmel staff were friendly and chatted with everyone standing in line), the warm-up comedian, security people and anyone else involved. I know this is Hollywood/LA, but this show and the vibe is over the top superficial and stupid. Get over yourself.”

James Corden (Getty Images)

Ironically, one compared him to Ellen and said, “I am on a trip with my 20-year-old daughter and was excited to do a fun TV show together. James Corden and his staff should learn how to treat the people that keep him on TV. Do not bother with this terrible experience. I have been to Ellen and she knows how to do it properly. Learn a thing or two James. It was a disgrace!!!”

One viewer wrote: “The disappointing part was James Corden acted so annoyed to even be there, what a disappointment and shocking to us. We spent a total of 6 hours of our precious vacation time for the host to be annoyed and in my opinion disrespectful to the audience that was coached to act as if he was the greatest thing in the world. James forgot to reciprocate his thanks to his fans that have chosen to spend the time to attend his show, go to his movies and watch the Late Late Show.
We had seen Bruno Mars the night before, he is such a professional that he made his huge audience feel welcomed and appreciated. The only thing James Corden will give you is the cold shoulder. The only mistake we made was not reading the reviews before we spent the time helping the Late Late Show appear to be a fun experience.” 

Well, with so many comments, it’s clear that it’s not just one experience but many similar ones, isn’t it? If Corden replaces Ellen, will he turn out to be “mean host” part two?

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God, Brad Pitt Is So Good at This

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He’s a master class in how to play the game as a celebrity. Case in point: his Fast Times at Ridgemont High table-read performance.
Photo: CORE/YouTUbe

To succeed at celebrity is to master the art of image construction and management. It is to turn yourself into a brand in which performance is the method and the point. The step and repeat on the red carpet. The reaction to a seemingly impromptu paparazzi swarm. The interviews. The magazine covers. The charity events. It’s all in service of an image created, not born. Throughout the history of Hollywood, there have been figures who buckled against the weight of the personas they walked behind, like Errol Flynn and Lana Turner during the height of the studio system. There have been others whose image-making was so refined as to make it hard to tell where the real person began and the star ended, à la Archibald Leach, better known as the debonair Cary Grant. After the fall of the classic studio system in the 1960s, much changed in the imagination of what Hollywood could be. Chiefly, stars were free agents unwed to a single studio. But the tricksy, mercurial alchemy that goes into becoming and remaining a star endured. No one has proved more adept at playing this game lately than Brad Pitt.

In the wake of his contentious, ongoing divorce from Angelina Jolie — on the heels of their grand, volcanic romance that bloomed on the set of Mr. and Mrs. Smith, when he was still married to Jennifer Aniston, causing a tabloid obsession that continues to this day 15 years later — Pitt has played the celebrity game with slippery splendor. While Jolie has kept relatively quiet, Pitt has been more forward-facing. His star persona is that of the high-school quarterback: charismatic and beloved. (If anything, Hollywood at large comes across as a more knotted version of petty high-school politics anyway.) Pitt hasn’t played the game perfectly so much as invisibly — his relationship with his new 27-year old girlfriend, whom he took to the chateau he shared with Jolie, might read like a rote, midlife-crisis sort of scenario. And one of the most cunning turns in Pitt’s recent approach to his own image is to once again position himself in solidarity with his ex-wife, Jennifer Aniston, an alliance that bloomed during the 2019–2020 awards season, perhaps helping him nab an Academy Award for his supporting performance in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Now, in the middle of a pandemic, he’s sidling up to Aniston once more, for a recent Fast Times at Ridgemont High table read.

What better way to shore up goodwill than painting yourself as the breezy, charming man who easily spends time with an ex-wife — with whom people are still obsessively hold out hope you’ll reunite? “Hi, Aniston,” he croons. “Hi, Pitt” she replies before calling him “honey.” I could practically feel the heat index increase on Twitter in that moment. Personally, I have never been invested in the Pitt and Aniston relationship; I was far more intrigued by the sexual heat and emotional complexity between Pitt and Jolie. But the dynamic between Pitt and Aniston demonstrates the ways in which the personal can be leveraged for the professional for celebrities. And Pitt isn’t just good at it, he ranks as one of the best, a talent fully on display during this table read. He’s more than merely charming, he’s a supernova of lightning-bright presence. He’s more than willing to be silly and carefree, listening with full-bodied attention. It’s a way of being he’s mastered, that helps him to create indelible moments in celebrity history, like his suburban-themed photo shoot of curdled domestic bliss with Jolie in the pages of a 2005 issue of W magazine and now this video alongside Julia Roberts and Morgan Freeman. Pitt’s unique skill comes in how effortless he makes everything look, which takes his star image away from feeling studied and makes it seem natural. Every celebrity is playing the same game. But the ones who make it seem like they aren’t performing, and instead are speaking directly to us with some conspiratorial intimacy, are able to carve the kind of immortality actors dream of.

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