Good afternoon Insiders, Max Goldbart here with your weekly runthrough of the biggest news as prequels launch and Venice gets underway. Do read on.
Rings Vs Thrones Goes Global
One prequel to rule them all: Two of the biggest tentpoles of all time are about to lock horns and this is going to be fun. It’s hard to tell if Amazon Prime Video and HBO set out to do this but when the highly-anticipated most expensive TV show of all time, Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, drops in dozens of territories today it will come just a fortnight after Game of Thrones prequel House of the Dragon debuted episode one. Both of the U.S. conglomerates have been busy stressing their global credentials and their international premieres were even at the same place, London’s Leicester Square Odeon Luxe, with Amazon’s taking place Tuesday night and yours truly in attendance. What happens next will be fascinating.
Jeffrey ‘Spielberg’: To a packed audience’s delight and, frankly, surprise, the world’s richest man Jeffrey Bezos was present to unveil the world’s richest TV franchise, as he entertained the crowd with an amusing five-minute opening spiel that included a bizarre reference to giving notes to Lord of the Rings showrunners J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay, met with titters and awkward glances. “Every showrunners’ dream is to get notes on early scripts and cuts from the Executive Chairman, they just love that,” he joked. “I want to thank you both for listening whenever it helped but mostly I need to thank you for ignoring me at exactly the right times.” Indeed. Payne and McKay are fairly new to the game and, in a more touching moment, Bezos hailed “one of the best decisions we’ve ever made” in hiring them. Attendees Deadline spoke with afterwards felt Bezos’ appearance was reflective of just how big Amazon’s Middle Earth bet really is. The streamer has made some big plays in the past five years but streaming has always felt a bit of a side hustle. It was odd, then, that Amazon Studios Europe Head Georgia Brown’s departure was revealed just two days after the premiere, as Brown, who has shepherded some big hits during her tenure, moves to pastures new. For what it’s worth, this reviewer loved the first two eps of LOTR, with McKay and Payne getting the pacing spot on, introducing some intriguing storylines and guiding wonderful performances (Morfydd Clarke as Galadriel stands out).
Unleash the Dragon: The question now is whether Lord of the Rings will dent House of the Dragon’s early success. For the mid-level fantasy fan, it is hard to imagine both can be squeezed into weekly TV viewing habits that are currently chock-full of shows. That may explain why marketing budgets outside of the U.S. have been astronomical. You can barely move in London without seeing a billboard and HBO even opted for a duo of premieres, one in London and one in Amsterdam. HBO has had a headstart and has already said House of the Dragon is its most-watched premiere in European history, coming at a time when new conglomerate owner Warner Bros. Discovery is shrinking its European commissioning teams. The talk is Amazon wants LOTR to run and run, while House of the Dragon was recommissioned this week for season two, so it will be interesting to see if these giants continue going toe-to-toe and how that pans out. As Bezos reminded a bewildered London crowd Tuesday, “Not all those who wander are lost.” That Tolkien mantra could just as much apply to today’s busy TV viewer as the likes of Frodo Baggins of the Shire.
Venice Kicks Off
Talking up international: Zac Ntim here reporting from the 79th edition of the Venice Film Festival, which kicked off Wednesday evening with what feels like a much more muted and focused program. There is no mega budget, A-list-laden tentpole like Dune, or, thankfully for some, Joker. There is, however, lots of prestige awards catnip on show, which is probably why Bill Kramer, the new chief executive of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, hopped on a water taxi to the Lido. Surprisingly, the Academy has never had an official presence at Venice. During a panel session at the fest, Kramer declared that the Academy’s future “is as much with international cinema as with American cinema,” as reported by Deadline’s Nancy Tartaglione. A cynic may suggest these are peculiar comments to make at a festival like Venice, which has had such a strong focus on American cinema rather than the international market. But Kramer stressed that international cinema will be integral to the Academy’s “evolution.” At least we’ve all stopped talking about The Slap. Deadline’s Mike Fleming Jr was also on the lido, and he got on a boat with Venice head Alberto Barbera to chat all things cinema in an interesting multi-part video series, during which Barbera digs into the competition lineup and offers gems from the past, including the time he managed to lure the notoriously reclusive Stanley Kubrick only to see him pass away shortly before he was due to appear.
“I am doing good”: In other Venice news, Danish filmmaker Lars Von Trier made an appearance via video link on Thursday for the premiere of his upcoming TV series The Kingdom Exodus. This was Von Trier’s first international appearance since announcing in August that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s. “I am doing good, but the shaking will take some time to fight. I’m feeling better but a little bit more stupid than I used to be, so that says a lot,” he said to applause from the press corps. The Kingdom Exodus is the third and final instalment of von Trier’s rebooted 1990s cult supernatural TV show The Kingdom and screens Out of Competition.
New titles: On the film front, the festival opened with Noah Baumbach’s latest White Noise, which received a tepid response from critics and festivalgoers. Todd Field’s Tar, in contrast, has become an instant awards favorite, with critics hailing Cate Blanchett’s central performance and Field’s confident direction. Over the next week, the festival will debut a host of buzzy titles. The hottest ticket in town is the Monday world premiere of Olivia Wilde’s beleaguered Don’t Worry Me Darling, starring Harry Styles and Florence Pugh.
An enticing mix: The London Film Festival (LFF) unveiled the full lineup for its 66th edition on Wednesday. As always, the LFF program is comprised of an enticing mix of buzzy titles from around the fall festivals like Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths out of Venice, and daring works by first-time filmmakers like Thomas Hardiman who brings his feature Medusa Deluxe to the UK capital after debuting in Locarno. The festival is also set to host a series of eye-catching headline galas, including the world premiere of Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio and the international premiere of She Said starring Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan. Del Toro’s Pinocchio is a big coup for the festival, which runs October 5-16. Tricia Tuttle, director of the fest, spoke to Deadline about landing the animation and her desire to beef up the festival’s industry presence here.
Hitting the RAI-t note: RAI Cinema CEO Paolo Del Brocco sat in the International Disruptors hotseat this week as his outfit prepared to debut 24 titles at Venice. As all Insider readers will no doubt be aware, it has been a rocky couple of years for cinema and Italy, one of the biggest European pandemic sufferers, has certainly not been immune. Paolo is charged with leading the drive back to the big screen and he spoke to our Diana about how to lure the everyman and woman to cinema again. “We’re still not sure of what all the answers are but our directive is, and always has been, to work hard to make better movies that can surprise audiences,” Paolo told Diana. Go deeper here – you know you want to.
RIP Charlbi Dean
“A shock and a tragedy”: As Venice got underway Wednesday, the cinema world was shocked by the death of Charlbi Dean, the South African model, actor and star of Ruben Östlund’s Palme D’or-winning Triangle of Sadness. Dean, who died in New York City of an unexpected illness, wowed Cannes audiences with her performance as model Yaya in Östlund’s satirical comedy about uber-rich guests on a superyacht, and was also well known for playing Syonide, a recurring character on The CW’s DC Comics-based series Black Lightning. Östlund led the tributes, describing the news as a “shock and a tragedy” in an Instagram post. “Charlbi had a care and sensitivity that lifted her colleagues and the entire film crew,” he wrote. “The thought that she will not be by our side in the future makes me very sad.”
🌶️ Hot one: Helena Bonham Carter has joined Anthony Hopkins and others in One Life, the drama about Nicholas Winton, who saved 669 children during the Holocaust. Baz with this one.
🌶️ Another one: Downton Abbey’s Allen Leech and Normal People’s India Mullen are helming The Vanishing Triangle for AMC Networks’ Sundance Now and Virgin Media Television. Brought to you by Jesse.
🌶️ Another one: Apple TV+ drama Criminal Record set cast, including BAFTA-winning Help star Cathy Tyson.
🖊️ Signed up: Netflix’s Delhi Crime season two showrunner and director Tanuj Chopra signed on the dotted line with WME.
🍿 Box office: Universal/Amblin’s six-film Jurassic franchise crossed the $6B mark globally.
🏆 Awards latest: Poland selected Jerzy Skolimowski’s Cannes-winning EO, which follows a nomadic grey donkey, as its official submission to the International Oscar race.
🤝 Done deal: The might of Warner Bros. Discovery and BT Sports’ offerings will officially be brought together in the UK and Ireland with the closure of the months-long sports JV deal.
🤝 Another done deal: Acquisitive French media outfit Asacha Media Group moved into features by buying Les Misérables producer SRAB Films.
🧑💼 New job: For Cécile Gaget, who was appointed Head of Film at the ever-expanding Wild Bunch.
🎥 Trailer: BBC drama Bloodlands season two is out soon, produced by Line of Duty creator Jed Mercurio.
🖼️ First-look: China Film Group executives were treated to a screening of James Cameron’s highly-anticipated Avatar: The Way of Water, and Cameron was there to greet them.
And finally: The world was rocked this week by the death of Mikhail Gorbachev, the former Leader of the Soviet Union who in so many senses brought down the Iron Curtain and brought freedom to millions of Eastern Europeans. Deadline Co-Editor-in-Chief Nellie Andreeva was one such person and wrote emotionally about the impact of Gorbachev’s reforms. From ‘Repentance’ To Freedom: How Mikhail Gorbachev Got My Generation On The Road That Leads Somewhere can be read in full here.
Zac Ntim contributed to this week’s International Insider.
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