MOVIE WRITERS TO URGE WGA TO ACCEPT SAG DEAL

Some top movie screenwriters are planning a secret meeting this weekend to form a coalition that would force the Writers Guild of America to accept the same deal that the Directors Guild of America negotiates with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, L.A. Weekly columnist Nikki Finke reported on her Deadline Hollywood Daily blog. The screenwriters, Finke said, "are weighing their options about how to convey their unified message and best exert pressure for this strike to be settled." However, an unnamed member of the WGA board responded in a statement to Finke: "Anyone, A-list writers or not, who would posture in public, in advance of a DGA deal, as willing to take the DGA deal before they even make it... who as DGA members would compromise the DGA's leverage by announcing this before hand... has awarded themselves the Darwin Award for the world's weakest negotiators." Meanwhile, the New York Observer has designated Finke "The Media Mensch of the Year" for her reporting on the strike. "She's demonstrated that one determined reporter -- with none of the support or backing of a media outfit, but also none of the entangling alliances -- can, in fact, beat the big guys at their own game," the Observer said. "She's broken the news of almost all of the significant strike developments since the beginning.

ALVIN AMAZES

The box-office success of Alvin and the Chipmunks has surprised executives of 20th Century Fox, which produced it, as much as industry analysts and especially movie critics, who wrote scathing reviews about it. "I look at the numbers [box-office receipts] every day, and we just laugh," Elizabeth Gabler of Fox 2000 told the Los Angeles Times. The film had grossed $153.6 million through Tuesday and could wind up taking in as much as National Treasure: Book of Secrets and I Am Legend, the holiday's two blockbuster releases, the Times observed. But since it cost only $55 million to produce, it is likely to be far more profitable than the two other films.

UNIVERSAL PICTURES REPORTS RECORD YEAR

Universal Pictures said Wednesday that it earned more in 2007 than in any year in its 100-year history. The company said that its theatrical releases grossed $2.133 billion worldwide and $1.099 billion domestically. In a statement, Universal Chairman Marc Shmuger and Co-chairman David Linde called 2007 a "turnaround year" for the studio. "What's especially fulfilling is this record didn't result from one or two home runs that saved the bottom line, but from a diversity of successes." The company also observed that Universal's home video division had an exceptional year, grossing $2.7 billion in the U.S. alone.

NETFLIX HOPES TO ELIMINATE RED ENVELOPES

Netflix hopes eventually to be able to stream movies over the Internet directly to high-definition TV sets, the online video rental company said Wednesday as it announced its first partnership to do so with South Korean manufacturer LG Electronics. "We want to be integrated on every Internet-connected device, game system, high-definition DVD player and dedicated Internet set-top box," Netflix CEO Reed Hastings told the New York Times. "Eventually, as TVs have wireless connectivity built into them, we'll integrate right into the television." (See related item in television section.)

STUDIOS PREPARE FOR SLOW JANUARY

With January regarded as traditionally a slow month for the movie industry, only one film, Warner Bros.' One Missed Call, starring Edward Burns and Shannyn Sossaman, is scheduled to open this weekend. The result is that National Treasure: Book of Secrets is likely to repeat as the top film for the third week in a row, earning between $18 million and $22 million, analysts predicted. Fox Searchlight's Juno, which played in only about 1,000 theaters last weekend -- but still wound up in fifth place in the box-office standings -- is due to double that number this weekend and is expected to give films like Alvin and the Chipmunks, I am Legend and Charlie Wilson's War, which finished second, third, and fourth last weekend, a run for the money.

SEAN PENN NAMED PRESIDENT OF CANNES JURY

The Cannes Film Festival announced Wednesday that Sean Penn will serve as jury president at the 2008 festival, which begins May 14 and ends May 25. In a statement, Penn observed that in recent years "increasingly thoughtful, provocative, moving, and imaginative films by talented filmmakers" have been produced and that the festival has "been the epicenter in the discovery of those new waves of filmmakers from all over the world."

Cinemark Movie Club
Brian B.