Goldman Sachs-Backed Game Cloner Brags About App Store Manipulation – Variety

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“Game cloning” (copying the core mechanics and gameplay loop of a released or in-development title) continues to be a rampant problem, especially on mobile storefronts. The latest victim is “Donut County,” a game by Ben Esposito and published by Annapurna.

Not only did a copycat beat “Donut Country” to the market, Voodoo (the company behind it) managed to land a $200 million investment. A press release announcing the partnership with Wall Street investment bank Goldman Sachs heralds the publisher for its “vision, execution capabilities, and innovation velocity.” This vision, according to Voodoo’s website, includes metrics-driven app development and purchasing installations, a well-documented way to influence app rankings.

If you’ve never heard of “Donut County,” think of it like a reverse “Katamari Damacy.” Instead of making larger and larger balls of junk, you’re swallowing things up into a hole that gets wider as it consumes more. It’s adorable and colorful, and it’s due out later this year.

When it does release, some people are going to be confused. There’s a game out there right now on iOS and Android called “Hole.io.” Players take on the role of holes and swallow up the world around them. Sounds familiar, right? That’s because “Hole.io” is a “clone.”

“Game cloning” is a euphemism. It’s what you say in polite company when you don’t want to outright accuse someone of stealing your game idea and rushing a slipshod version to market. It’s hard to be genteel about the behavior though, when the culprit touts a massive influx of cash from a Wall Street investment bank.

The practice of cloning has been going on for years. The worst part is that unless the cloner rips off art assets, sounds, or the title, the practice dances just on this side of the legal line.

“Game ideas or mechanics are not protectable under copyright law,” says Odin Law and Media founder Brandon Huffman. “Individual assets (like specific art, music, etc.) are. Most clone developers know this and so they avoid taking specific art or sound assets and try to build, from scratch, a similar game – albeit usually a crappier version.”

There are few things a developer can do to combat a clone, because of how Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown requests work. The app stores themselves can be prickly to work with. Bringing a rival developer to court over a clone isn’t an inexpensive process and, sometimes, it’s simply not feasible.

“In order to recover for infringement from a clone developer, the original developer would have to show either actual copying or that the two games are so strikingly similar that one basically must be a clone of the other,” Huffman explains. “For example, individual features, like a HUD or a game mechanic, on its own, isn’t sufficient. But if there is a long list of similarities and very few differences, that might be enough to hold the cloner accountable. Taking action against the app stores is tough for three big reasons. First, the costs. Submitting a DMCA request is easy, but if the clone developer counter-notices, filing an infringement suit can be expensive. Second, the app marketplaces aren’t always cooperative. They sometimes don’t take things down or they restore apps without a proper counter-notification which requires consent to jurisdiction in US federal district court. Finally, often clone games are produced in foreign markets and cross-border enforcement is both logistically and financially more difficult.”

Some try to release their own games (or direct copies of the originals) on mobile storefronts under the original names to trick users and rake in some cash before they’re shut down. Even if a DMCA request swats the clone off the store because of the title, it might not be gone for good.

“One tactic that I’ve seen work is using trademark, rather than copyright, to get the games taken down,” Huffman says. “For example, if I made a game titled ‘Super Title Game’ and I registered the trademark, and the clone game is titled ‘Super Title Game Extreme’ I could ask the marketplace to remove the game on the trademark basis. If they then rename the game ‘Extreme Game’ without the infringing title, the game would probably be allowed to remain up, but fewer consumers would stumble on it when searching for my game.”


Apple and Google each have guidelines to try and combat cloning. Unfortunately, the law is often the restrictive force, putting platform holders in precarious situations.  Apple did remove a number of “Flappy Bird” clones that were wholesale theft of code and assets, but it allowed the influx of similar experiences (especially after the original game was removed from the store).

Apple directly addresses the cloning problem in a guideline section called “Copycats.”

“Come up with your own ideas,” Apple urges. “We know you have them, so make yours come to life. Don’t simply copy the latest popular app on the App Store, or make some minor changes to another app’s name or UI and pass it off as your own. In addition to risking an intellectual property infringement claim, it makes the App Store harder to navigate and just isn’t fair to your fellow developers.”

While this a guideline and not an operating procedure, it gives Apple a foundation for addressing rampant cloning. Google also mentions infringement, but doesn’t appear to specifically call out clones or copycats.

Attack of the clones
The cloning issue rose to prominence with mobile gaming. Vlambeer’s Rami Ismail and JW Nijman ran into it with “Ridiculous Fishing,” as detailed in an extensive “Polygon” story. Their game premiered as a browser-based experience, with the intent to port it to app stores. The duo retained the rights for a mobile release, but before they could get there, a developer named Gamenauts copied “Ridiculous Fishing” and released a clone.

The same situation is happening now to developer Ben Esposito and his upcoming title, “Donut County.” Esposito and publisher Annapurna have shown “Donut County” at a number of industry events, including PAX East 2018. Enough of the title’s core mechanics have been on display that it was easy enough for someone to swoop in, take the basic concept, and fire it onto the app store.

That’s not enough to damage a studio working on an original title, though. Clones by themselves might gum up the works and make it harder for the original developer, but they aren’t the death knell for a great game.

Discoverability is a massive issue for mobile gaming (and, recently, PC storefronts). If players can’t find your game or it isn’t highlighted on the front page, they won’t find your title organically. One of the ways storefronts are combating discoverability issues is with rankings. If your game is popular enough to float near the top of a “most downloaded” list, it will be much easier for players to find.

That’s all well and good if everyone is playing on a level field. As you might have guessed, that isn’t the case for many games. It’s an even bigger issue with clones, like “Hole.io.”

“Hole.io” publisher Voodoo recently announced a massive $200 million investment from Goldman Sachs. The press release suggests that Voodoo is entering a period of “hypergrowth” with Goldman Sachs’ help.

Looking at Voodoo’s catalog, you’ll find games like “Flappy Dunk!”, “Rolly Vortex”, “The Fish Master”, “The Cube”, and “Infinite Golf.” Those are essentially clones of “Flappy Bird”, “Rolling Sky”, “Ridiculous Fishing” (yes, another “Ridiculous Fishing” clone), and “22 Cans’ Curiosity – What’s inside the cube?”

Voodoo’s entire visible portfolio (the company says it is working with more than 700 developers at this time) seems to be comprised of algorithm-driven clones. Voodoo is taking the stance that, like Match-3 games, titles like “Donut County” (of which there appear to be only two: “Donut County” and Voodoo’s own “Hole.io”) are a sub-genre that is fair game for mimicry.

“Developers are free to create their own games,” a Voodoo spokesperson says. “To do this, there exists a limited amount of preeminent gameplays. However, there can be an infinite amount of interpretations and execution. For example, the puzzle Match 3 gameplay is popular amongst developers and on the stores, however different studios have created original games by adding their own experience and art direction. In this spirit, other examples of popular gameplays that have been interpreted by many developers are hidden object, casino, bubble shooter and first person shooter games.‎”

Cloning alone isn’t enough to fuel the cash machine.

In order to get those clones into consumer view, they need to rank highly on the download lists. Voodoo isn’t shy about sharing its recipe.

We are experts at buying cheap installs in big numbers, thanks to our mobile growth team,” Voodoo proclaims on its website. “We are a metric and result oriented team. We will help you understand the key metrics, and we will work with you to improve your game’s retention, in app purchases and viral growth.”

Voodoo tells Variety that it purchases its bulk installs from “Facebook and many other ad networks.” The company doesn’t hide that it games Apple and Google’s ranking systems.”Their games reach the top of the app store and are played by millions of people and they get lots of money to live off their passion,” a Voodoo representative explains.

It’s this practice that has put “Hole.io” atop the Free Games ranking list (above #3 ranked “Fortnite”). The fourth, eight, twentieth, and twenty-third spots also belong to Voodoo games.

There’s one problem, though. This practice flies in the face of Apple’s App Store guidelines.

“If we find that you have attempted to manipulate reviews, inflate your chart rankings with paid, incentivized, filtered, or fake feedback, or engage with third party services to do so on your behalf, we will take steps to preserve the integrity of the App Store, which may include expelling you from the Developer Program,” the guidelines state.

Google offers similar guidance. “Developers must not attempt to manipulate the placement of any apps in Google Play. This includes, but is not limited to, inflating product ratings, reviews, or install counts by illegitimate means, such as fraudulent or incentivized installs, reviews and ratings,” the company advises.

A harsh reality for “Donut County”
Since game mechanics can’t be protected, “Hole.io” will live atop the rankings, earning ad revenue from legitimate downloads obtained through illegitimate promotion. With so much of Donut County’s mechanical conceit revealed to the public, it was ripe for the stealing.

There are some things developers can do to protect themselves, though. Romero Games co-founder Brenda Romero offers the following tips.

“I’m going to talk about the game when it can’t be caught,” she’s quoted as saying in “The GameDev Business Handbook.” “This is particularly important in games that could be rapidly developed, like many mobile games, certainly those that don’t have a two- or three-year timeline like most triple-A or triple-I titles do. I will never talk about my game too early, and I will never talk about my game when I know you can catch me.”

She also urges developers to keep at least one aspect of their games hidden from public view. That way the whole core gameplay loop can’t be copied. In those cases, ripoffs will never replicate the whole experience.

The truth is, there’s nothing Annapurna or Ben Esposito can realistically do to have “Hole.io” removed from the mobile storefronts. Voodoo has clearly used “Donut County’s” core mechanic to build “Hole.io,” but that’s within legal bounds. In a Twitter post from June 25, 2018, Esposito identifies that the two games are different enough, but is honest about his feelings.

“There are differences. ‘Donut County’ is a story based puzzle game, and ‘hole.io’ combines the premise for ‘Donut County’ (you’re a hole in the ground, swallowing objects makes you bigger), with the ‘.io’ king of the hill formula,” he writes. “It stings a little after 5+ years of convincing people a game about a hole in the ground is a good idea, lol… I can’t do anything about them stealing my thunder, really. I’m gonna focus my energy into finishing ‘Donut County.’”

Ben Esposito, Annapurna, and Apple did not immediately respond to Variety’s request for comment.

Disclosure: Michael Futter is the author of “The GameDev Business Handbook.” Romero was a subject in the book.



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Production Starts on Eddie Izzard-Judi Dench’s ‘Six Minutes to Midnight’ – Variety

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In today’s film news roundup, production starts on “Six Minutes to Midnight,” Artists for Change launches with “Lost Girls: Angie’s Story” and Sundance names five docs for its Edit and Story lab.

PRODUCTION START

Production has launched in the U.K. on the period thriller “Six Minutes To Midnight,” starring Eddie Izzard and Judi Dench.

The film also stars Carla Juri, James D’Arcy, Jim Broadbent. Andy Goddard is directing from a script he wrote with  Celyn Jones and Izzard. The story, set in 1939, follows a teacher assigned to a finishing school on the south coast of England who becomes alarmed that the students include the daughters of high-ranking Nazis.

“Six Minutes to Midnight” is financed by Motion Picture Capital, the Welsh Government, Ffilm Cymru Wales and West Madison Entertainment. Producers are Sean Marley, Andy Evans and Ade Shannon of Mad as Birds, Sarah Townsend producing for Ella Communications and Laure Vaysse for REP6.

Lionsgate International is selling worldwide rights, and Lionsgate U.K. will be releasing the film in the U.K. Izzard and Dench worked together on last year’s “Victoria & Abdul.”

FIRST PROJECT

Recently launched nonprofit Artists for Change, a socially minded community of filmmakers, has launched its first project with “Lost Girls: Angie’s Story.”

“Those of us who work in the film and TV industries carry an incredible responsibility in these troubled times,” said founder, producer and director Julia Verdin, who has assembled a group of industry professionals.

Verdin’s credits include “Stander,” starring Thomas Jane; “The Merchant of Venice,” starring Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons and Joseph Fiennes; and “2 Jacks,” starring Sienna Miller and Danny Houston.

“I think important issues with little attention can benefit from visual stories, both narrative and documentary, to send a message to the world,” said Gary Dartnall, a film industry executive and board member for Artists for Change. “Artists for Change plans to use the power of film to inspire change.”

“Lost Girls: Angie’s Story,” which is in pre-production, was inspired by Verdin’s time volunteering at a runaway children’s shelter in Los Angeles, where she met victims of sex trafficking. This project was supported by donations, crowdfunding, funders, grants, and volunteers.

“I had always thought that [sex trafficking] was something that happened in third world countries and so I began to do research,” Verdin said. “I quickly started to understand what a huge growing problem this is in the U.S. I decided I had to try and do something to help raise awareness.”

Artists for Change’s board of directors includes Dartnall, Sean Michael Acosta, Deborah Kolar, and Jason Piette, among others. Members of the advisory board include Jamie Harris, Julian Lennon, Camille Jumelle, and Ritesh Mehta.

SUNDANCE DOCUMENTARIES

The Sundance Institute has selected five projects for its Documentary Edit and Story Lab on July 6 at the Sundance Resort in Utah.

Advisors are Maya Hawke (“Box of Birds”), Sabine Hoffman (“Risk”), Jeff Malmberg (“Spettacolo”), Robb Moss (“Containment”), Jonathan Oppenheim (“Blowin’ Up”) and Toby Shimin (“This Is Home”). The contributing editors are Yuki Aizawa, Hannah Choe, Jaki Covington and Katherine Gorringe.

The projects include “After a Revolution,” in which a brother and sister struggle to rebuild their lives after fighting on opposite sides of the Libyan revolution; “Crip Camp,” a revolution in a ramshackle summer camp for disabled teenagers; “Forgiveness,” a modern American ghost story and a house that vanished; “The Hottest August,” a film about climate change, disguised as a portrait of collective anxiety; and “#Mickey,” in which a gender fluid Mickey has become a Youtube celebrity, but is fighting a conflict between her online persona and her real self.

 

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Stylish British Noir Keeps Reshaping the Truth – Variety – Sharing Variety Magazine

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The eponymous optical instrument gets a full symbolic workout in “Kaleidoscope,” an intricately crafted, infinitely wrongfooting psychological thriller in which conflicting realities coalesce, diverge and regroup like so many shifting formations of jewel-colored glass. A sharply styled debut feature for British writer-director Rupert Jones, this extended exercise in artful obfuscation feels the considerable benefit of a key family contact. Were it not for the ever-sympathetic, emotionally grounding presence of the helmer’s estimable older brother Toby in the lead — as a seemingly milquetoast ex-con entangled in an enigma-riddled case of murder — the film’s tricksy, collapsible is-it-or-isn’t-it structure would test the patience sooner. As it is, “Kaleidoscope” has the feel of a curt, clever short drawn out into a less complete calling card — some details catch the eye more than others, but we’ll surely be keeping the younger Jones’s number.

Though it’s set in a present day complete with with cellphone-dependent plot points, nearly everything else about “Kaleidoscope” seems painstakingly designed to evoke a late 1960s strain of semi-esoteric British cinema: from the sparse, glassy strains of Mike Prestwood Smith’s score, to the brutalist architecture of the east London council estate that houses the action, to the sagging, peeling mid-century modernism — in soiled shades of tea and ale — that dominates Adrian Smith’s fine production design. (Even the eye-wateringly patterned shirt our protagonist wears for a critical portion of proceedings has a faded sense of Swinging London to it.) But it’s the structure and tenor of the narrative itself, with its mix of circuitous repetition, elusive suggestion and hard culs-de-sac, that call to mind Joseph Losey in one of his more experimental moods — and in turn Peter Strickland, the contemporary British filmmaker most in thrall to that particular avant-garde phase. The presence of Toby Jones, as quietly panicked and eerily shambling here as in Strickland’s “Berberian Sound Studio,” underlines the comparison.

Meanwhile, it’s hard not to detect a wily dash of “Psycho” in Jones’s repeatedly splintered, refracted mystery, which begins with protagonist Carl, a solitary sadsack not long out of prison, waking in his dingy apartment to signs of a struggle he cannot recall, before discovering the murdered body of a young woman, Abby (Sinead Matthews, brashly endearing), in the bathroom. Or does he? From this grim introduction, Jones’ script spirals clockwise and anti-clockwise by turns, deliberately muddying the temporality of the film; when certain events happened, moreover, becomes a less crucial question than whether they happened at all. The story’s fixed pivot is an awkward, internet-engineered date between Carl and Abby, a gabby trickster with designs on his valuables, which goes from stilted to sinister with the over-addition of alcohol.

Yet even as he attempts — with nightmarish, ever-faltering inefficiency — to clean up the bloody fallout of this encounter, Carl is plagued by an even more damaging conflict with a woman: his domineering mother Aileen (Anne Reid), who turns up to visit the same day, and under whose passive-aggressive influence the faultlines of her son’s ruptured psychology are laid bare. Not so bare, of course, as to crystallize precisely what has happened in this toxic, claustrophobic apartment: Editor Tommy Boulding shuffles hints, suggestions and revelations like a skilled cardsharp, as we alternately consider the possibilities of Aileen being a cruelly timed foil to her son’s crimes, a nagging imaginary figment, a vengeful phantom or even an alternative manifestation of Carl’s young victim. Whatever the truth, as played with either crowish portent or plaintive need by the excellent Reid, she hangs over her son and his ellipse-filled struggle like human cigarette smoke, clouding his every thought until the scenario reshapes itself again, dealing him another luckless hand.

Darkly dainty as this ornate storytelling geometry is, however, it’s hard to remain heavily invested in the outcome through a runtime that, even at a modest 90-plus minutes, feels a tad stretched. The director and his team perform their repeated rug-pulls with panache, deftly concealing the truth in the manifold angular shadows of Philipp Blaubach’s lensing, but as the reality of Carl’s plight grows ever harder to determine — turning a whodunnit into more of a whodunwhat — not every viewer will care that much about seeing him through it all. It’s finally Toby Jones, more than Carl, who holds onto our hearts: The actor’s vulnerable air of crumpled, compromised decency warms and complicates passages of “Kaleidoscope” that might otherwise seem merely theoretical.

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Ragnarok’ Thunders to $56.6 Million Second Weekend – Variety – Sharing Variety Magazine

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Showing plenty of staying power, Disney-Marvel’s “Thor: Ragnarok” is dominating the North American box office with $56.6 million at 4,080 locations in its second weekend.

The figure give the third Thor movie the 29th highest second weekend of all time and the fifth best of 2017. It also took in nearly the combined total of the two new titles — Paramount’s family comedy “Daddy’s Home 2,” with $30 million from 3,575 sites and Fox’s mystery “Murder on the Orient Express” with $28.2 million at 3,341 venues.

Thor: Ragnarok,” starring Chris Hemsworth and directed by Taika Waititi, declined 54% from its $122.7 million opening last weekend and is already the ninth highest domestic grosser of 2017 with $211.6 million in its first 10 days. It’s also been a stellar international performer with $438 million in less than three weeks — topping $650 million worldwide.

On Nov. 8, “Thor: Ragnarok” became the 12th consecutive Marvel Cinematic Universe film to top $500 million worldwide.

The movie has reversed a box office slump that persisted through October and left 2017’s overall domestic moviegoing down 5% from last year at $9.14 billion as of Sunday. With Warner Bros.’ “Justice League” opening next weekend and “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” launching on Dec. 15, the industry is now poised to end the year on an upbeat note. The overall weekend totaled about $148 million, down 6% from the same frame in 2016, according to comScore.

“Daddy’s Home 2” is performing at the high end of recent forecasts and is finishing about 23% below the original’s $38.7 million opening in 2015. Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell reprise their roles as fathers co-parenting the children of Wahlberg’s character who struggle to cope when their fathers, played by Mel Gibson and John Lithgow, arrive during the holiday season.

Murder on the Orient Express” has also launched above expectations. Kenneth Branagh stars as detective Hercule Poirot in the latest adaptation of Agatha Christie’s story of a murder mystery on a luxury train in the 1930s. The cast has plenty of star power with Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Michelle Pfeiffer, Penelope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, “Hamilton’s” Leslie Odom Jr., and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” actress Daisy Ridley.

STXfilms’ “A Bad Moms Christmas” finished fourth with $11.5 million at 3,615 locations in its second weekend, showing decent holding power with a decline of only 31%. The film has grossed nearly $40 million  in its first 12 days.

A24’s expansion of Greta Gerwig’s “Lady Bird” cracked the top 10 with $1.2 million on 37 screens for an impressive $33,776 per screen average. The comedy-drama posted the best 2017 platform opening last weekend with $364,437 at four sites.

Fox Searchlight’s platform release of “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” starring Frances McDormand and Woody Harrelson, opened with a strong $320,000 at four locations. McDormand plays a small town mother taking on the local police force after her daughter’s rape and murder goes uninvestigated for several months.

More to come

 

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‘Rake’ Producer Essential Media Back in the Drama Business (EXCLUSIVE) – Variety

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The producer behind series including “Rake” and “Jack Irish” and the movie “Saving Mr. Banks” is launching Essential Scripted, a new high-end TV and film production business.

International Emmy Award-winning producer Michelle Hardy has joined the team. A first-look deal has also been set with Hardy White Pictures, the Australian drama indie that is a partnership between Hardy, and director Erin White, whose credits include the ABC Australia comedy series “Sando.”

The new division will be part of Essential Media, which is owned by acquisitive film and TV production and distribution group Kew Media.

Essential sold its drama catalog to FremantleMedia last September in a move that saw one of its co-founders, Ian Collie, exit and start FremantleMedia-backed drama shingle Easy Tiger. Based in Sydney and L.A., Essential is now getting back into creating drama with the launch of the new scripted unit.

Essential is run by CEO Chris Hilton and chief content officer Greg Quail. They will oversee Essential Scripted with Hardy as VP, Australia, and Simonne Overend her counterpart in the U.S.

“We’re relishing the prospect of our return to drama production in Australia and the USA at a time when the opportunities have never been greater,” said Hilton (pictured). “We have an exciting new slate and with the support of our new partners at Kew we’re looking forward to bringing more premium scripted content to audiences around the world”. 

Essential has an international track record in drama. Its legal drama “Rake” was remade for Fox in the U.S. with Greg Kinnear, while series such as Guy Pearce-starrer “Jack Irish” play on the Acorn streaming service.

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‘Lethal Weapon’ Star Damon Wayans Calls Out Clayne Crawford – Variety – Sharing Variety Magazine

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Lethal Weapon” star Damon Wayans has spoken out via Twitter after the Fox series was renewed for a third season despite the exit of star Clayne Crawford, who was let go from the show after revelations about two on-set incidents for which Crawford received reprimands.

Wayans, who plays Roger Murtaugh, posted a video and image to his Twitter account showing the circumstances surrounding an injury he sustained from a piece of shrapnel on set during an episode Crawford, who played Martin Riggs, was directing. Wayans set his account to private shortly after posting the tweets.

In the video, a small explosion can be seen behind Wayans as he stands near a pillar on set. He then jerks forward with a pained expression and reaches his hand to his head as though hit by something. The image posted in the following tweet shows a cut on his head, which Wayans indicated was from the explosion.

“Now that the fate of the show is solidified…I’d like to address the TWITTER outrage with this video and image to follow,” Wayans wrote, referring to the backlash the show received online at the idea of its continuation without Crawford.

“How does shrapnel from this hit me on the opposite side of the head? #directedby@claynecrawford,” read the second tweet.

Wayans then posted the explanation he was presumably given for the incident. “Below is a rendering seeking to explain yesterday’s incident.  It turns out there was a second shooter, to Damon’s left, on the other side of the pillar behind which his character was crouched, which accounts for what he heard from his left side. @claynecrawford #noapology.”

Wayans added in further tweets that Crawford “became uninsurable” and “relished in making female[s] cry,” and posted an image of a sticker he says could be seen around the lot, which bears the phrase “Clayne Crawford is an emotional terrorist” with an image of Crawford. He also alleged that Crawford “hit another actor in the mouth with a bottle of green tea and busted his mouth open.”

Fox and Warner Bros. Television did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

After news of the reprimands against Crawford broke, the actor posted explanations of both incidents to his Instagram account, saying that in the first, he “reacted with anger” when he felt circumstances on set put cast and crewmembers in danger, and in the second, an actor was hit with shrapnel while Crawford was directing an episode — presumably Wayans.

Warner Bros. opted not to renew Crawford’s contract and hired Seann William Scott to replace him, reportedly as Riggs’ brother in order to keep the Riggs and Murtaugh partnership.

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Trace Lysette and Jamie Clayton Slam Scarlett Johansson For Trans Role – Variety

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Scarlett Johansson is under fire for her next project with “Ghost in the Shell” director Rupert Sanders.

The actress is set to star in the crime biopic “Rub & Tug,” based on the real life story of Dante “Tex” Gill. Gill was a trans crime boss of the 1970s who ran several illegal massage parlors. In real life, Gill lived his life as a trans man, which led a lot of folks to inquire why a trans actor wasn’t considered for this role.

When the website Bustle reached out to Johansson’s representative for a statement about the vocal concerns, it was sent this response from the actress: “Tell them that they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman’s reps for comment.”

Trace Lysette, best known for her work on “Transparent,” took to Twitter to voice her anger. “I wouldn’t be as upset if I was getting in the same rooms as Jennifer Lawrence and Scarlett for cis roles,” she wrote. “But we know that’s not the case. A mess.”

Actress Jamie Clayton from “Sense8” and “The Neon Demon” also wrote about her disappointment, stating, “Actors who are trans never even get to audition FOR ANYTHING OTHER THAN ROLES OF TRANS CHARACTERS.” She then challenged casting directors to hire more trans actors in non trans roles with a dare.

There’s also confusion swirling around the concept of “Rub & Tug,” which when announced, did not make it clear that “Tex” identified as a man. The problem has only compounded.

Variety has reached out to Johansson’s reps for comment.



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Berlinale’s Dieter Kosslick Set For Force Of Nature Filmmaking Award – Variety

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Outgoing Berlin Film Festival director Dieter Kosslick will receive the inaugural Force of Nature Filmmaking Award at the 2018 Sam Spiegel International Film Lab in Jerusalem.

The organizers of the Film Lab, the Sam Spiegel Film and Television School, created the award to honor extraordinary personalities committed to the development of cinema. They said Kosslick was receiving the honor for the impact his work has had on German and world cinema, adding that he also inspired the establishment of the Jerusalem Film and Television Fund in 2008.

“A particular concern of mine has always been the national and international promotion and funding of talent and up-and-coming filmmakers. I’m exceedingly pleased to receive this award,” Kosslick said.

He will be presented with the award as the 2018 edition of the Film Lab opens on July 5. The 2019 Berlinale will be the last under Kosslick’s direction with Mariette Rissenbeek and Carlo Chatrian taking over as co-chiefs.

The Sam Spiegel International Film Lab unveiled the dozen emerging filmmakers selected for the 2018 edition earlier this year. They will be mentored by industry figures. Three-quarters of projects that have been through the program thus far have been produced. Film Lab alums include Academy Award winner Laszlo Nemes (“Son of Saul”) and Nadav Lapid (“The Kindergarten Teacher”).

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Paul Thomas Anderson Unveils Daniel Day-Lewis Fashion Romance ‘Phantom Thread’ – Variety – Sharing Variety Magazine

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“I’m a f—ing movie director — I don’t know anything about obsession,” filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson said sarcastically after the first-ever screening of his new film “Phantom Thread” Friday night.

Indeed, the six-time Oscar nominee’s latest work does revolve around that very concept, which has been famously explored by masters like Alfred Hitchcock. Anderson even boldly name-checked Hitchcock’s “Rebecca” and “Vertigo” as touchstones. But there’s also a dash of reflexive cinema in there; if you define a film as the manifestation of a single vision by an army of artisans at the whim of a sovereign, well, that’s exactly what Anderson has explored here, albeit within the context of 1950s London couture.

“Phantom Thread” stars Daniel Day-Lewis as Reynolds Woodcock, an esteemed fashion designer of the era whose world is up-ended by the arrival of Alma (Vicky Krieps), a forthright woman not content to simply play the part of the demure muse to the beyond-reproach genius. Soft-spoken but larger-than-life, Reynolds toils away in his lavish home, flanked by seamstresses and his right-hand delegate and sister Cyril (Lesley Manville), building on a passion for the craft instilled in him by his mother. But in Alma, he meets a formidable “emotional challenge,” as Manville put it.

“Alma’s arrival is sort of bittersweet, because Cyril has seen women come and go,” Manville said. “Cyril has, in a maternal way, had to mop up the mess of Reynolds’ emotional life, and I suspect she thinks it’s about time he did have somebody in his life with gravitas, who he could have something real with.”

Added Anderson: “It’s great to have a disruptor. [In this film] it’s love, so is it a disruptor? I don’t know. He has that line, ‘A house that doesn’t change is a dead house.’ So it seems like this house is maybe nearing its death faster than it should be without something new coming in to make it grow again and make it come alive.”

Anderson and Day-Lewis had been looking for a follow-up in the decade since their last collaboration, “There Will Be Blood.” The writing process differed on “Phantom Thread” somewhat, though. Anderson had pretty much hammered out “There Will Be Blood” on the page by the time he went to Day-Lewis with it. This time, working hand-in-hand was vital, particularly as it pertained to Day-Lewis’ method tendencies.

“We did research together and we agreed I would share writing with him as we went along,” Anderson said. “Everything in the house of Woodcock was so particular, in terms of what chair, what silverware, what teacup, so you have to involve Daniel in every aspect of that. It wasn’t as if Mark Bridges, our costume designer, could go independently and create a bunch of costumes and then put them into Reynolds Woodcock’s lap. It was very much a collaboration and everything in this world was coming from Reynolds. And that’s as it should be. The production was pushed forward by that.”

For Krieps, who arrives as an interesting wild card in the lead actress race this awards season, the lack of rehearsals was unusual. She essentially met Day-Lewis on set, in costume.

“I think they are both very different, but because they’re so different, that’s why they love each other,” she said of the two characters. “He shows her a new world she would never have had access to, a world of dressmaking and all this glamour and beauty. And she, I think, shows him an inner world.”

Speaking of awards season, “Phantom Thread” is part of a Focus Features stable that also includes Joe Wright’s “Darkest Hour,” Stephen Frears’ “Victoria & Abdul” and Sofia Coppola’s “The Beguiled.” Day-Lewis is sure to be in the thick of the lead actor conversation, particularly on the heels of his latest retirement announcement, but the film is most likely to register in a number of craft categories. However, you can take at least one race off the table: Anderson ostensibly shot the film himself, and there is no credited cinematographer on the project. So it won’t be competing in the category.

“Phantom Thread” has been dedicated to the late filmmaker Jonathan Demme. It opens Dec. 25.

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‘Sopranos’ Prequel Movie Adds Director Alan Taylor – Variety

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New Line is moving ahead with movie prequel to “The Sopranos,” hiring Alan Taylor to direct “The Many Saints Of Newark.”

New Line set up the feature film in March when it bought the script from “The Sopranos” creator David Chase. The film is set in the 1960s in Newark, New Jersey, amid conflicts between African-American and Italian residents. Over four days of rioting in July, 1967, 26 people died and hundreds were injured in Newark.

“The Sopranos” was set in contemporary New Jersey, ran for six seasons on HBO between 1999 and 2007. The acclaimed series nabbed 21 Primetime Emmy Awards, including one for Taylor for directing.

Lawrence Konner, who worked on “The Sopranos” with Chase, is a co-writer for the project. Chase will also produce the film. Chase Films’ Nicole Lambert will serve as executive producer.

“The Many Saints Of Newark” is expected to feature younger versions of some of the characters from “The Sopranos.” James Gandolfini, the star of the series, died in 2013.

Taylor directed nine of the 86 episodes of “The Sopranos.” His other TV credits include “Game of Thrones,” “Mad Men,” “Boardwalk Empire” and “Electric Dreams.” His feature directing credits include “Thor: The Dark World” and “Terminator Genisys.” Taylor is repped by UTA. The news was first reported by The Wrap.

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