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Nikki Finke, Johnny Depp, and Why "The Offer Story" Is Such Bullsh*t

By Dustin Rowles | Think Pieces | November 2, 2010 |

By Dustin Rowles | Think Pieces | November 2, 2010 |

Every few days, the Hollywood Cog sends me manila envelopes stuffed with cryptic typewritten messages with Los Angeles postmarks and no return address. Lately, the envelopes have had a jasmine and lavender scent, so who knows where this is leading. Who I think now is probably a she (although, given my perception on the site, who knows?) provides quite a bit of information that I never use, that I file away. By the time it gets to me on the East Coast, a lot of the information has already been reported by Deadline or The L.A. Times or The Wrap, although, more times than not, it’s Nikki Finke over at Deadline, who has lately become the obnoxious Internet troll screaming FIRST! while skipping around her office in her skivvies eating Snickers.

What I’ve realized over the last year, working with the Cog and her lavender scented envelopes, however, is that entertainment news is kind of bullshit. Don’t get me wrong: It’s fun to report. But it’s my hope that the folks who read Pajiba frequently understand that, in most cases, we use trade news as a bouncing off point for cultural commentary. I like knowing what’s in development, who is attached to what movie, and which director will be making the next reborquel. There’s certainly an informative aspect to it, but mostly, trade news is an excuse to justify drinking (if you’re Steven Lloyd Wilson), express your rage (if you’re TK), fit 37 movie references in a paragraph (Prisco), divulge man-crushes (myself), or comment further on the deterioration of our culture (see also Cindy, Adam, Willis)

What I’ve realized along the way is that we could have 27 Hollywood Cogs, but the hard news beat is not our game. If you want hard news, go to Slashfilm — they’re better at it, and more established. Or go to The Playlist, where you’ll know everything that’s ever been written about every project ever made. The Wrap, meanwhile, is also pretty good about confirming stuff before they report it, although much of what they report could only be considered interesting if you’re in the industry. Like our fratty photoshop genius over at Filmdrunk, we prefer to riff on the news, and we’re not really interested in being taken seriously as a “news” organization. It’s much more fun to mock the process, and right now, this fucking industry needs somebody to expose it for what it is: Film gossip.

Indeed, the more I understand about trade news, the harder it is to take much of it seriously as hard news. There are probably 800- 1000 movies in development right now in Hollywood, and most of those have actors, writers, producers and directors attached. I don’t know how many of those will actually get made, but let’s say 10 percent. Let’s say 50 percent of those projects never advance past the pitch stage, and are therefore never mentioned on a trade news site. That means another 40 percent of projects you hear about may never happen, and yet when a name is attached to that project — if the name is big enough — it’ll be reported first by outlets privy to that information. And then there’s jockeying for position, a lot of bluster about exclusives, a round of naysaying and high-horsing, and death threats to those who don’t properly attribute.

It’s a funny little game, but it’s also big business (or, in our case, a business).

It’s all about the confirmation. You get a story confirmed by a studio press release, and you win! You get a half hour’s worth or bragging rights on Twitter that no one will pay any attention to. But if you continue to win, and you obnoxiously remind people about your track record, then you get a following, a $14 million price tag, and maybe even a television show on a pay-cable network.

But it’s a percentages game. Don’t get me wrong: Nikki Finke gets a lot right, but it’s a shotgun blast approach to get that confirmation, that TOLDJA! You blast out enough low-level projects in development with major stars and directors attached, and some of them will reap you you’re TOLJDA! And the ones that don’t? Who is going to remember those next week? They burn up in the news ether. I oughta know. We play the same game with the Hollywood Cog, although it’s my firm hope that no one takes us seriously as a news organization. We’re not. We’re just fucking around, and thanks to the Cog and a lot of educated guessing, we happen to get quite a bit right.

To demonstrate the near meaninglessness of the offer/attached story, which makes up much of what you read on a site like Deadline, I culled through several sources, including some of what the Cog has given me over the last six months, and I’ve come up with a list of movies that Johnny Depp is set, attached, interested in, producing, or was offered during that time period. Some of these have been reported; some have not. Some of them may soon be reported. I count 21 movies in development, plus four already in production. Johnny Depp makes about two movies a year. That means that of the 21 projects in development, you might see four of them hit the big screen before Depp accumulates another 21 projects in development. And yet, there’s been a massive amount of copy devoted to his projects over the last year. And it’s not just Depp — trade news about Will Smith, Carey Mulligan, Noomi Rapace, Jeremy Renner, Ben Affleck, and half a dozen other names have fetched millions of eyeballs across hundreds of different sites during the last few months. So, it’s not like the rest of us don’t benefit from these scoops.

Who does it hurt? No one, really (except some pissed off studio execs who get angry when you post information about their comic-book movie sequels). It’s fun to speculate, isn’t it? As long as you understand that that’s exactly what it is: Speculation (even if that speculation is backed by some real information). But honestly, as real news in the journalistic sense, it’s also kind of a sham. If we can get the same information anonymously, unless our source is Nikki Finke’s jaded assistant (I’m not ruling it out), then how much power does Nikki Finke really have, and does it really warrant her being named one of the most powerful people in Hollywood? For peddling movie gossip?

Well, yes. Maybe it does.

Current Projects Johnny Depp Is Involved In (You do the Math)

1000 White Women: A period piece about an Indian Chief who asks the US President for 1000 white women as part of a peace treaty.

Agent ZigZag: It centers on the true-life story of Eddie Chapman, a criminal, con man and philanderer who was recruited and trained by the Nazis at the beginning of World War II. Chapman quickly became a master of espionage, and while on a mission to destroy an airplane factory in Britain, contacted the M15, Britain’s secret service, thus beginning his life as a double agent. Based on Ben Macintyre’s book.

Affected Provincial’s Companion: A treatise on the value of being a refined gentleman in today’s unrefined world.

Caliber: The Arthurian legend as retold in the American Old West, with all of its great symbolism, magic and spirit of adventure. The Knights of the Round Table are all gunslingers bound by a code of honor to protect the weak and defend the innocent until they are undone from within by their own moral corruption. (Based on a graphic novel by Sam Sarkar.)

Children of the Lamp: Family fantasy about two kids in NYC who find out they are the descendants of genies. Based on the novel by Philip Kerr.

The Crook Factory: Period crime thriller about a skilled FBI agent who is sent to Cuba to track Ernest Hemingway’s counter-espionage network known as the “Crook Factory” and in the process, he and the eccentric novelist get wrapped up in a conspiracy involving Nazis in Cuba, Russian intelligence, and the United States government. Based on the novel by Dan Simmons.

Dark Shadows: A gothic-horror tale centering on the life of vampire Barnabas Collins and his run-ins with various monsters, witches, werewolves and ghosts. Based on the popular “Dark Shadows” TV series.

Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates: The comedic CIA adventure story of a philosophical, hedonistic operative who, on a mission to free his grandma’s parrot in the Peruvian Amazon, is kidnapped by an unknown tribe and cursed with a spell promising death if his foot ever touches the earth. His wheel-chair bound quest to undo the curse takes him to a renegade arms dealer in Turkey, a Syrian Desert convent where he finds a hot nun, and then fights to protect her at the Vatican. Based on the Tom Robbins novel.

The Ghost and the Wolf: Eastern Promises meets The Last Boy Scout. A cop takes on the Russian mob after they kill his wife.

Happy Days: A man abandons his wife and children and checks into a rest home, where he bonds with a terminally ill woman with one special last wish.

Inamorata: During the height of 1920s spiritualism, a Harvard grad sets out to debunk a beautiful soothsayer

In the Hand of Dante: Two parallel storylines tell the story of Dante Alighieri in the 14th century in Italy as he tries to complete his masterwork, and of a modern-day expert who has asked to authenticate Dante’s original manuscript. Based on a novel by Nick Tosches.

The Lone Ranger

My American Lover: A drama centered on the romance between philosopher Simone de Beauvoir and writer Nelson Algren

Oh, The Places You Will Go!: A story about a little boy and the places he will visit. Based on the Dr. Seuss book.

Pancho Villa: A biopic about Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa.

Rex Mundi: Julien Salazar must accept the fact that the world goes beyond the bounds of science in order to stop a mad Duke from rebuilding the Tower of Babel and becoming “Rex Mundi,” a God among men who will destroy free will and make everyone in the world his slave.Based on the 2002 comic book series “Rex Mundi” created and written by Arvid Nelson and Eric Johnson.

Shantarum: An Australian heroin addict convicted of robbery escapes from a maximum-security prison, flees to India and reinvents himself as a doctor in the slums of Bombay. He gets involved in counterfeiting, smuggling and gunrunning, which leads him to Afghanistan, where he and a mob boss battle the Russians. Based on the novel Shantaram written by Gregory David Roberts.

Stoker: After India’s father mysteriously dies and her estranged uncle comes to live with her and her mother, people start to go missing in her hometown and India discovers that her uncle may be the cause.

Sleeping Dogs: An action-adventure story set in the border zone between Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil.

The Thin Man Remake: A former detective and his wife team up to solve a murder case.

Movies in Production or Already Set for Release
Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
The Tourist
Rum Diary