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The Bulwark Goes to Hollywood

Author: Sonny Bunch

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Sonny Bunch hosts The Bulwark Goes to Hollywood, a new podcast featuring interviews with folks who have their finger on the pulse of the entertainment industry during this dynamic—and difficult—time.
64 Episodes
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On this week’s episode, Sonny talks to David Herrin the CEO and founder of The Quorum, a film research firm that has done something rather remarkable in making tracking data available to the public in the same way that box office data is available to the public. “Tracking” numbers are the data points used by studios to help determine how a film will perform in theaters, and The Quorum is building a hearty database for movie nerds to dive into. In addition to discussing The Quorum’s new study examining why audiences are hesitant to return to theaters—spoiler: cost and COVID remain the two biggest factors—we also chat about the state of the business and what’s likely to come. I encourage you to poke around at The Quorum’s website if you’re a fan of sites like Box Office Mojo; there’s all sorts of interesting stuff there. And share this post with a friend if you enjoyed our chat!
A Century of Black Cinema

A Century of Black Cinema

2021-11-1801:01:41

On this week’s episode, Sonny is joined by Wil Haygood, author of the new book Colorization: One Hundred Years of Black Films in a White World. Haygood’s book is a must-read for anyone who wants to learn about largely forgotten trailblazers such as Oscar Micheaux, better-known figures like Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte, the controversies over movies as diverse as The Birth of a Nation and Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, the odd fate of Porgy and Bess, and so much more. Colorization is both breezy and in-depth—the best sort of popular history—and our conversation only scratched the surface of his book. If you enjoyed this episode, please share it with a friend!
On this week's episode, Sonny is joined by Christian Blauvelt, author of Hollywood Victory: The Movies, Stars, and Stories of World War II. (https://www.amazon.com/Hollywood-Victory-Movies-Stories-Classic/dp/0762499923/ref=sr_1_1?crid=4R3PWGGR7W3J&keywords=hollywood+victory+book&qid=1636647171&sprefix=hollywood+victory%2Caps%2C193&sr=8-1) From the pre-war skittishness of the big studios about alienating German markets—and potentially alienating an isolationist homefront, pre-Pearl Harbor—to the wartime efforts to raise funds and produce works of art that inspired Americans to resist the fascist menace, Christian's book tells a wide-ranging and fascinating story.
On this week’s episode, Sonny is joined by Jim Cummings, whose new feature The Beta Test drops on VOD and in select theaters Friday, Nov. 5. In addition to discussing his few film and its acidic take on the dispute between talent agencies and the WGA, Jim also talks about landing a featured role in Halloween Kills, how he financed and distributed his first feature, Thunder Road, and his horror-comedy The Wolf of Snow Hollow (which topped Sonny’s best-of list in 2020). If you enjoyed this episode, share it with a friend!
When you click “buy” on a digital product at Amazon or Apple, as opposed to “rent,” what do you think that means? Most folks think of it like buying a physical copy of a thing: they can sell it or pass it down to heirs. But as Aaron Perzanowski, a professor at Case Western, notes in his sit-down with Sonny Bunch, that’s not really the case: you’re just buying a license to a thing. And if that license to Amazon or Apple ends? Well, so does your access to the thing you think you “bought.” On this week’s Bulwark Goes to Hollywood, Sonny discusses the tricky nature of ownership in an increasingly digital world—and what you need to know before you click “Buy.” If you enjoy this episode, please share it with a friend!
Netflix's Big Week

Netflix's Big Week

2021-10-2237:23

This week on The Bulwark Goes to Hollywood, CNN’s Frank Pallotta rejoins Sonny to talk about Netflix’s big week! New subscriber numbers, new data numbers, and a newly controversial gloss to the biggest thing in entertainment. Plus, we talk a bit about Halloween Kills, Dune, and the impact of streaming on box office numbers. If you enjoyed the show, share it with a friend!
Ryan Faughnder of the Los Angeles Times’s Wide Shot newsletter rejoins the show this week to discuss the boon—and burden—of sports betting ads. What are some of the rewards, and the risks, of this enormous advertising market? We also discussed Squid Game and Netflix’s efforts to internationalize entertainment as well as the age-old debate: subtitling versus dubbing. Make sure to sign up for Ryan’s newsletter (it’s free!) and if you enjoyed this episode please share it with a friend!
On this week’s episode, Sonny talks to Scott Eyman about his new book, 20th Century Fox: Darryl F. Zanuck and the Creation of the Modern Film Studio. Zanuck’s reign as a Hollywood mogul ran through nearly every major technological and business innovation Hollywood saw in the first half of the 20th century and beyond, and Mr. Eyman’s book paints a compelling portrait of a producer as both businessman and artist. You can pick up a copy wherever books are sold (here’s an Amazon link for ease’s sake), and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
On this week’s episode, Sonny talks to Scott Tobias, formerly of The AV Club and The Dissolve, about his new Substack endeavor with Keith Phipps, The Reveal, as well as the evolving world of film criticism. With so many local newspapers cutting back on movie reviewers for budgetary reasons and so many websites merely hitting the most popular of topics to generate clicks, it’s interesting—and, frankly, heartening—to see Substack using their Pro program to help critics like Tobias and Phipps (along with Ty Burr and Jerry Saltz) stand up their own newsletters to chase their own idiosyncratic interests. Can the “Thousand True Fans” theorem save the world of interesting film writing?
Welcome back to the show! Please check out last week’s episode if you missed it; Rod Lurie (The Contender, The Last Castle) had a ton of great stories about transitioning from the Army to the world of film criticism to the world of filmmaking. This week we talked about shooting The Outpost: the difficulty of bringing such a sensitive story to the big screen and trying to decide what to cut and what to keep; shooting the film in Bulgaria; and casting actors like Caleb Landry Jones and Scott Eastwood in key roles. For more on The Outpost, make sure to check out my interview with the author of the source book, Jake Tapper. And please share this episode with a friend if you enjoyed it!
This week (and next week!) Sonny talks to Rod Lurie, the director of The Contender, The Last Castle, and The Outpost, among other films and television shows. This week’s episode is all about Rod’s early efforts to break into the business, from Army officer to film critic to writer/director. He tells a great story about his first meeting with Bill Paxton, fills us in on the difficulty of getting funding for just about anything (spoiler: you’re always one actor away from a green light), and the difference between being a showrunner and a director-for-hire on a TV series. Make sure to tune in next week when we talk about The Outpost. And if you enjoy this episode, please share it with a friend!
CinemaCon in Twilight

CinemaCon in Twilight

2021-09-0230:59

Richard Rushfield, proprietor of The Ankler, returns to the show this week to fill us in on the declining fortunes of CinemaCon in an age of streamers and theater-threatening diseases. We also discuss low-budget horror and why studios seem loathe to fill their slate with surefire hits in addition to checking in on the minions celebrating the downfall of Mike Richards, Jeopardy scourge.
On this week’s episode Sonny is joined by Jake Tapper, CNN anchor and author of The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor, to talk about his book on Combat Outpost Keating and its adaptation into the defining movie of the Afghanistan War by Rod Lurie. Why did the book expand from coverage of the rare battle that saw two living Medal of Honor winners emerge to a book about the life an ill-advised and ill-placed outpost in the wilds of Afghanistan? How did the troops feel about American attention, or lack thereof, to the war effort? And what was it like seeing the story brought to life for viewers on screens big and small? After listening to the show, make sure to watch the movie (it’s on Netflix now!) and please: read the book. As the child of a military family, I can assure you it’s both heartrending and, occasionally, more than a little infuriating. But it’s a must-read to understand the War in Afghanistan from a soldier’s-level view.
Very excited to have on Zak Penn this week, who, in addition to being one of the writers of Free Guy, is also a credited writer on a series of HBO classics from my younger days: Last Action Hero, PCU, and Behind Enemy Lines, among others. On this episode we talked a lot about Free Guy and the state of Hollywood’s internal struggle between IP-branded ventures and original films, but we also dove into some of his other work: What happened with the writing of Last Action Hero, the first script Penn sold; the gratifying legacy of PCU as a cult classic and the oddity of its unavailability now; and why X-Men: The Last Stand gets a bad rap. It’s a super-sized episode because we had a ton of ground to cover; if you enjoy what you hear, please share it with a friend! If this episode does well maybe we can convince the studio swells to put out that 4K Blu-ray collector’s set of PCU we’ve all been clamoring for.
This week, Sonny is joined by Matthew Belloni, author of the newsletter “What I’m Hearing” for the exciting new web publication Puck.news. Formerly an entertainment lawyer and editor for The Hollywood Reporter, Matt joins the show today to talk about Scarlett Johansson’s lawsuit, the ways in which streaming economics are upending traditional compensation packages, and Disney’s new “socialism.” Are the days of superstar show runners earning hundreds of millions over? And what lies ahead for actors and audiences alike? We discuss all this and more, and if you enjoy this episode, I really cannot recommend Matt’s newsletter enough: I always learn something new when I read it, which is the nicest thing I can say about anyone’s newsletter.
On this week’s episode, Sonny talks to Clayton Childress, an Associate Professor in the Dept. of Sociology of University of Toronto who studies taste, decision, and meaning making in the creation, production, and reception of culture. Clayton is on to discuss a recent study he coauthored with Shyon Baumann, Craig M. Rawlings, and Jean-François Nault about the strange ways elite tastes have both grown more inclusive and more exclusive. What does it mean that those with more education say they enjoy every genre (e.g., horror) but only certain films within that genre (e.g., A24’s horror films like Hereditary or The Witch)? And what does that mean for studios trying to figure out what to make—and what to market?
On this episode of The Bulwark Goes to Hollywood, Sonny talks to Ray Subers, a vice president at NRG, which has helped Hollywood studios with polling about movies for decades. Currently, NRG’s most interesting and informative efforts have to do with polling audiences on their comfort levels with going back to theaters during the age of COVID and its variants. How are audiences feeling right now as case numbers surge? How nervous is Hollywood? Also: If you’ve ever wondered how movie studios figure out the “tracking” numbers—that is, the awareness levels for upcoming movies—that help them decide on release dates and advertising strategies, Ray’s the guy to listen to. It’s a fascinating science with stakes that involve tens of millions of dollars every single week.
This week Sonny is joined by John Mass, Executive Vice President of Content Partners, LLC, to talk about the business of acquiring intellectual property and figuring out how to make the business side of show business work. We had a great chat about the future of streaming, the shifting world of windows, and the (potentially limited) future of physical media. Content Partners is the leading independent owner of major studio distributed films, televisions shows, and related participations with over 500 studio release films and more than 3,000 hours of television. The company owns many notable titles, such as 13 Going on 30, Black Hawk Down, Black Swan, and is co-owner of the CSI franchise.
This week on The Bulwark Goes to Hollywood, Sonny talks to the Los Angeles Times’s Ryan Faughnder about arr-poo (that is, RPU, or revenue per user) and how such calculations figure into the value of a subscriber, as well as all sorts of other topics. Make sure to subscribe to Ryan’s newsletter (it’s free!) if you’re into the whole “business of Hollywood” thing, which you are since you’re listening to this show. And if you enjoy this episode, share it with your friends! Everyone loves getting a new podcast to listen to.
On this week’s episode we ask a very important question of The Ankler’s Richard Rushfield: Is Vin Diesel a star? Really, what does it mean to be a star these days anyway? How are the streaming wars shaping up? What’s the deal with Universal’s new pay window? And how beloved is Quentin Tarantino? All this and more on this week’s episode of The Bulwark Goes to Hollywood.
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