MORE MONEY FOR ART'S SAKE

The cost of making "artistic" movies just became a lot more expensive. According to a report released by the Motion Picture Association of America on Wednesday, the cost of producing a movie by a specialty unit of a major studio increased 60 percent from the previous year to $49.2 million. Add $25.7 million more for marketing, distribution, and advertising, and the total cost rises to $74.9 million per movie. By comparison, the average studio film cost a total of $106.6 million to produce and market, up only 6.3 percent from the previous year. Nevertheless, the MPAA reported, the worldwide box office set a record for the year -- $26.7 billion in ticket sales; domestic sales reached $9.6 billion, also a record. In a statement, Both records were achieved not as a result of increased attendance -- which remained flat -- but by an average 5 percent increase in ticket prices. MPAA chief Dan Glickman gave the industry a pat on the back. "From the threat and eventual reality of a writers strike to the global impact of film theft to concerns over the economy," he said, "the film industry faced significant challenges in 2007. But, ultimately, we got our Hollywood ending."

CELEBRITY TRIAL OF THE DECADE BEGINS

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles has released a list of possible witnesses who may testify in the trial of former private investigator Anthony Pellicano. They include such celebrities as Keith Carradine, Farrah Fawcett, Chris Rock, Garry Shandling, and Sylvester Stallone. Also on the list are former Los Angeles Times reporter Anita Busch, attorney-to-the-stars Bert Fields, Paramount chief Brad Grey, director John McTiernan, Universal President/COO Ron Meyer, former CAA Chairman and Disney President Michael Ovitz, Craig Stevens, the former Beverly Hills cop who allegedly performed wiretapping services for Pellicano, and former New York Times reporter Bernard Weinraub. Although 127 names were included on the government's list, Judge Dale Fischer remarked at one point Wednesday that she couldn't imagine that all of them would be called to testify. Jury selection was quickly completed by Wednesday afternoon, and the prosecution was due to present its opening argument this morning (Thursday).

BEOWULF TOPS DVD CHARTS

Paramount Home Entertainment's Beowulf took over the lead on both the DVD sales charts and rental charts last week, dropping last week's winner, Universal's American Gangster, to second place on each of the charts. The film earned $10.9 million in rentals, according to Home Media magazine. Several of last year's animated films returned to the sales charts, including Disney/Pixar's Ratatouille, which came in at No. 3; DreamWorks Animation's Shrek the Third at No. 7; and Fox's The Simpsons Movie, at No. 8. Home Media attributed the surge in sales for the animated fare to the "looming Easter gift-giving season."

SONY ELECTRONICS CHIEF: BATTLE OVER HI-DEF IS JUST BEGINNING

Sony Electronics President and COO Stan Glasgow says that the victory of his company's Blu-ray format over Toshiba's HD DVD represents barely a first step toward convincing consumers to upgrade to high-definition video players. At a New York press briefing reported in today's (Thursday) online edition of Broadcasting & Cable, Glasgow acknowledged that many consumers recognize that their standard DVDs look a lot better on HDTV sets than they did on their old analog sets. The real challenge, he said, will be convincing them that the additional resolution of Blu-ray is worth the hundreds of dollars they will have to spend on a new player and the significantly higher prices for movies released on Blu-ray discs. "The battle really begins now," Glasgow said. Meanwhile, the website High-Def Disc News reported Wednesday that Circuit City is offering to let customers who bought HD DVD players within the past 90 days trade them in and apply the original price toward a Blu-ray player. The deal applies only to the players, not to movies released in the HD DVD format.

LA TIMES CUTS ARTS STAFF

Continued downsizing at the Los Angeles Times will have a drastic effect on the newspaper's "Calendar" section, which reports on the arts in Southern California. Reports emerged Wednesday that Robert Welkos and Gina Piccalo, who cover the movie industry for the Times, along with reviewer Kevin Crust, have been forced to take buyout packages. The newspaper's dance critic, Lewis Siegel, is also being cut, although in a note to colleagues he indicated that he may be allowed to do some freelance work for the paper in the future.
Cinemark Movie Club

Brian B.