A full-scale battle has been joined between producer-director Ron Howard on one side and William Donohue, head of the Catholic League, the largest Catholic lay organization in the U.S., with about 100,000 members. On Tuesday Howard accused Donohue of being on a "mission" to smear him by portraying him and his upcoming movie, Angels & Demons, as anti-Catholic without having actually seen the movie. In a commentary posted on the liberal Huffington Post blog, Howard wrote, "Let me be clear: neither I nor Angels & Demons are anti-Catholic. And let me be a little controversial: I believe Catholics, including most in the hierarchy of the Church, will enjoy the movie for what it is: an exciting mystery." Responding to Donohue's charges that the movie -- and the Dan Brown book on which it was based -- are replete with "lies" about the Catholic Church, Howard responded, "It would be a lie if we had ever suggested our movie is anything other than a work of fiction," and he acknowledged that he, like other classic filmmakers, had taken "liberties with reality." He concluded: "I know faith is believing without seeing (and a boycott would be disbelieving without seeing). But I don't expect William Donohue to have faith in me, so I encourage him to see Angels & Demons for himself." Donohue wasted no time responding. "Howard must be delusional if he thinks Vatican officials are going to like his propaganda -- they denied him the right to film on their grounds." And he implied that either the Church or the Catholic League may have planted a spy among the movie's crew. "We know from a Canadian priest who hung out with Howard's crew last summer in Rome (dressed in civilian clothes) just how much they hate Catholicism." Donohue did not identify the priest, nor did he indicate what the priest had learned about the crew's views about the Church.


Hollywood studios are balking at proposals by the Los Angeles Police Department to set up a new unit to oversee so-called rent-a-cops who perform security work at location shoots. According to TheWrap.com, the proposal would add a 14-percent administrative charge to the cost of hiring each retired officer, a $118 increase in the cost of a filming permit, and payment of $49.66 an hour for retired officers and $69.86 for active ones working past their regular hours. TheWrap.com quoted location manager Mike Fantasia as saying, "These are huge numbers. ... They are the kinds of additional costs that make folks think of going out of town.' The website observed that the additional permitting costs alone would cost film companies $849,600 a year.


In a blistering commentary about the management of Viacom, the parent company of Paramount and MTV, media analyst Rich Greenfield of Pali Research on Tuesday lowered the rating on the media company's stock from buy to neutral. Despite his continuing belief that Viacom's assets are undervalued, he wrote, "We simply do not believe its management team is capable of closing the valuation gap, particularly given a pattern of poor decision-making, the lack of respect [Viacom CEO Philippe] Dauman has from his employees, peer media company managements and investors, as well as a Board of Directors that continues to excessively reward underperforming management." Greenfield also concluded that Viacom's decision to launch the pay-TV operation EPIX with Lionsgate and MGM is "a critical mistake" that will not generate the kind of revenue that Paramount's previous deal with Showtime did and will result in "producers becoming fearful of a weaker pay-TV window via EPIX." Greenfield also blamed a dramatic drop in ratings for MTV on "unappealing" programming and the fact that "management has failed to bring fresh creative talent into MTV to reinvigorate the brand and its programming."


Stepping up its competition with Netflix for dominance of the online movie-rental business, Amazon on Tuesday said that it would immediately begin offering high-definition movies for rent to TiVo users who are connected to the Internet. In addition, it said, it would begin selling HD episodes of current television shows. In a statement, Tara Maitra, TiVo's content-services chief, said that TiVo users can now "transform any night into a memorable movie experience, all for a fraction of the cost of the theater." Moreover, she said, many of the movies it will offer will be available on the day the DVDs are released, "something no other [digital video recorder], cable, or satellite company can match." Meanwhile, in the face of increasing competition, Netflix shares have continued to fall. On Tuesday Lazard Capital Markets analyst Barton Crockett recommended that Netflix investors sell their stock saying that rival online video services "will lessen the appeal of Netflix Watch Instantly, slowing subscriber growth."


Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke on Tuesday told the movie industry that his department "will be a partner for you in devising ways to improve the security of your products." Locke made his pledge at a Washington D.C. symposium organized by the Motion Picture Association of America. He told the gathering, "The Obama Administration is well aware of the impact of counterfeiting and piracy on our industries and workers, and we're working to combat it." Locke's comments were echoed Tuesday night by Vice President Joe Biden who called Internet piracy "pure theft" and alleged that it resulted in a loss of income to artists and to the American people who have lost jobs because of it. "The recent revelation that an illegal copy of the upcoming movie Wolverine (sic) had been posted on the Internet prior to its theatrical release underscores the problem the industry faces," he said, "As a former prosecutor, I believe in the full and impartial enforcement of the law" concerning such cases. Although officials had vowed to bring to justice the person or persons who posted online a workprint of the movie X-Men Origins: Wolverine, no suspects have as yet been named.