WHO'S RUNNING UNITED ARTISTS?

While several trade reports indicated this week that Paula Wagner will not be replaced as CEO of United Artists, leaving Tom Cruise in charge of the studio, Cruise himself is balking at the notion that he will take over Wagner's responsibilities. "I don't run United Artists," he told syndicated columnist Liz Smith. "I just own it." (So, technically, does Wagner, it would appear.) Commenting on Wagner's decision to leave UA, Cruise said, "I love Paula Wagner, but she wants to produce elsewhere and in her own venue, and I don't intend to stand in her way. I'll say this of her leaving United Artists -- whatever Paula wants is what I want her to have! And I hope we'll continue working together on future projects."

BURN HOT AT VENICE

The Coen Brothers' Burn After Reading. starring George Clooney, Brad Pitt, John Malkovich, Frances McDormand and Tilda Swinton, received a generally warm reception from critics as it opened the Venice Film Festival Wednesday night. Reviewing the film for Bloomberg News, Farah Nayeri wrote, "With Burn After Reading, the Coen brothers have produced their freshest, lightest comedy yet, despite its dark overtones. Only they could successfully mix physical fitness, the CIA, Internet dating, national security, plastic surgery, and marital infidelity." All of the stars, along with the Coens, took part in a news conference following the press screening. Each of the actors portrays a kind of idiotic character, leading Joel Coen to remark that he and his brother have "a long history of writing parts for idiotic characters." Then, possibly with the fresh memory of recent protests over Tropic Thunder in mind, he added, "By the way, I'm starting to detect something in the crowd here, a feeling that you all feel there's something wrong with being an idiot. I just want to caution you about that, because that's a sensitive subject and a big demographic."

ADVERTISERS, UNIONS EXTEND CONTRACT

While TV and film producers have still been unable to reach an agreement with the Screen Actors Guild on a new contract, the advertising industry and SAG, joined by the American Federation of Television Artists, have quickly agreed to extend their agreement to March 31, 2009 while they study ways to compensate actors for commercial work intended primarily for new media, including the Internet, cell phones, and mobile devices. The decision to extend the contract was apparently reached without formal meetings, making it unnecessary for the feuding members of the actors' unions to sit together at one end of the bargaining table.

DOCUMENTARIES BEING SCREENED IN EMPTY AUDITORIUMS IN N.Y.

Nine documentary films are being screened in mostly empty theaters at a New York arthouse this week in order to quality for Oscar consideration by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The New York Times reported that when its reporter looked into the 7:00 p.m. screenings, it found two theaters with not a single person in the seats and one with just three. The producer of one of the films said that she had not advertised or promoted the film. "My goal for this run was to qualify for the Academy Awards period." In reporting on the qualifying screenings, the Times observed, "Most of these filmmakers plan to release their films later this year or next with greater fanfare. But they don't want to waste their resources -- or precious media reviews -- till then."

HOLLYWOOD RETURNING TO THE U.K.

The steep plunge of the British pound against the U.S. dollar in recent months has already begun attracting more Hollywood filmmakers to Britain, the London Daily Telegraph reported today (Thursday). Reporting a 31-percent rise in revenue in a half-year income statement, Pinewood Shepperton Studios said that the growing strength of the dollar plus U.K. tax incentives now "make film production in the UK a relatively attractive option for US studios in comparison to other international locations."

Brian B.