CHAOS FOLLOWS COLLAPSE OF STUDIO PAYROLL FIRM

The sudden bankruptcy declaration of Hollywood payroll services provider Axium International and the shutdown of its offices may have had devastating consequences for some smaller movie producers, the Los Angeles Times indicated today (Thursday). Several producers interviewed by the newspaper complained that they had deposited tens of thousands -- even hundreds of thousands -- of dollars that was frozen in their Axium payroll accounts. The newspaper also indicated that the company's collapse not only resulted in the loss of jobs for its 400 employees and executives but left numerous industry workers holding worthless paychecks. Howard Ehrenberg, the court-appointed bankruptcy trustee overseeing Axium's finances, told the Times that Axium's largest creditor, Golden Tree Asset Management, seized $22 million from company accounts after Axium defaulted on a $140-million loan.

BLOCKBUSTER TO OFFER DIRECT-TO-IPOD DELIVERY

The day may soon be approaching when consumers will be able to walk into a Blockbuster store and rent a movie by downloading it instantly onto their video iPod or similar device. "We think the ultimate solution is a kiosk in a Blockbuster store and outside of a Blockbuster store that ... will be able to distribute content to your portable device," Blockbuster Chairman James Keyes told a Citigroup investors conference in Phoenix Wednesday. He predicted that video discs will become a thing of the past and that most movies will be rented in digital form. Keyes also said that he expects Blockbuster will benefit from an extended writers' strike as people alter their viewing habits and turn to movie and TV rentals as an alternative to the networks' planned menu of reruns, reality shows, and news magazines.

HD DVD STILL KICKING

Despite the move by Warner Bros. into the Blu-ray high-definition video camp, Samsung said Wednesday that it still plans to go ahead with the launch of a second generation dual-format Blu-ray/HD DVD player this year. In an interview with the Gizmodo website, DongSoo Jun, head of Samsung's digital AV unit, said that while he agrees with those who say that all the major Hollywood studios will eventually adopt Blu-ray exclusively, there will nevertheless remain a market for dual-format players because of the strong foothold Microsoft and Toshiba will continue to hold in the PC market for high-definition recorders. (Microsoft's Xbox 360 also plays HD DVD disks.) Jun said he expects HD DVD to remain the choice for personal hi-def videos and Blu-ray, for professional videos.

HOW WILL THEY PRODUCE THE OSCARS?

Speculation continued to mount in Hollywood Wednesday about how the Oscars might be produced if the writers' strike is not settled by February 4. "We are going to do it," producer Gil Cates told the Associated Press Tuesday. "I can't elaborate on how we're going to do it, because I don't want anybody to deal with the elaboration in a way that might impact its success." Some speculated that the ceremonies could be produced in animation (writers of animated programs are not covered by the WGA contract). Others, that it could be produced by David Letterman's Worldwide Pants, which has signed an interim agreement with the WGA. And Britain's Guardian newspaper proposed a "Team America Oscars" in which puppets, like those used in Matt Stone and Trey Parker's Team America: World Police, would stand in for the stars. "At least an hour could be devoted to recreating the sex scenes between Tony Leung and Wei Tang in Lust, Caution," the newspaper said.

HOLLYWOOD'S "MAYOR," JOHNNY GRANT, DEAD AT 84

Johnny Grant, the former Los Angeles disc jockey who became "honorary mayor of Hollywood" and boosted the area even as it turned to seed and then began to regrow, died Wednesday at his residence in the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, a restored Hollywood landmark. He was 84. Grant had been on hand to host most of the (paid for) Hollywood Walk of Fame ceremonies in which marble slabs bearing celebrities' names are embedded in the sidewalk of Hollywood Boulevard.

Brian B. at Movieweb
Brian B.