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End of the Week Production Notes 4/2/21: Tyler Perry on New Georgia Voting Laws, American Gods Not Quite Dead and More News


Happy Friday, and for some of you, Good Friday, as well!

It was a pretty packed week, and the biggest news story may be the backlash to the Georgia government instituting voting laws that have come off as discriminatory with many in the entertainment industry making statements to the effect of boycotting bringing any productions to the state. Georgia, especially Atlanta, has been particularly busy with tons of work for crew, partially because the state offers such good tax incentives. The state was also one of the first to gear up production after the COVID-19 shutdown last year.

The law, signed by Governor Brian Kemp last week, has tougher ID rules for absentee ballots, limits drop boxes and gives state election board officials the ability to override local boards. Voters waiting in line are not allowed to receive food or water either. It’s said that many of these rules are meant to punish the state’s black voters who managed to turn the normally red state blue with the election of two Democratic Senators in a run-off election in January, as well as President Joe Biden carrying the state in the 2020 Presidential Election, the first for a Democrat in nearly thirty years.

Tyler PerryTyler Perry, whose Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta employs many of the film and television workers in the state, has spoken out on the new law in a statement released Tuesday, “As a Georgia resident and business owner I’ve been here a few times with the anti-abortion bill and the LGBTQ discrimination bill. They all sent a shockwave through Georgia and the nation but none of them managed to succeed. I’m resting my hope in the DOJ taking a hard look at this unconstitutional voter suppression law that harkens to the Jim Crow era.”

He also urged against a boycott, which will hurt employment for thousands of local crew, since Kemp is up for reelection in 2022 anyway, saying, “As some consider boycotting, please remember that we did turn Georgia blue and there is a gubernatorial race on the horizon – that’s the beauty of a democracy.”

In fact, President Biden has also spoken up on the new law, saying that the Justice Department “is taking a look,” when asked about it at a press conference last week. “We don’t know quite exactly what we can do at this point,” but he also called it a “blatant attack on the Constitution” and “Jim Crow in the 21st Century.” Groups like The New Georgia Project, the Black Voters Matter FundRise, as well as NAACP and ACLU have sued, and we expect that it will end up going to the Supreme Court.

There was quite a bit of news about series casting up as the annual pilot season comes to a close later this month. Unfortunately, one show that will not be continuing is Starz’ popular series, American Gods, based on the book by Neil Gaiman, which stars Ian McShane and Ricky Whittle.

American Gods
Ian McShane and Ricky Whittle in American Gods (Starz)

 Starz announced that it had decided that the series’ third season, which just aired its finale on March 21, will be the show’s last, even though the series finale ended on a cliffhanger. Gaiman, who is an executive producer on the series, spoke up on Twitter to say that the series isn’t quite dead yet, and that production company Fremantle is exploring other options to continue the series. One of them may be Amazon Prime Video, which streams the first season of the show and is developing a Sandman series with Gaiman.

In a statement to Deadline, Fremantle confirmed Gaiman’s statement with, “Fremantle is committed to completing the epic journey that is American Gods, one of TV’s most inclusive series with the most amazing fans across the globe. With Neil Gaiman and this fantastic cast and crew, we are exploring all options to continue to tell this magnificent story.”

There were some pretty big deals this past week, but the biggest one by far had to be Netflix shelling out over $400 million in a deal to produce and distribute two sequels to Rian Johnson‘s 2019 hit mystery comedy, Knives Out, with Daniel Craig  reprising his role as Southern detective, Benoit Blanc.

Knives Out
Daniel Craig (r) in Knives Out (Lionsgate)

Johnson’s follow-up to Star Wars: The Last Jedi had a huge ensemble cast that included Ana de ArmasChris EvansJamie Lee Curtis, the late Christopher PlummerToni Collette, Michael ShannonLakeith Stanfield and many more. It opened over Thanksgiving in 2019 and ended up grossing $311 million worldwide based on a $40 budget. Considering that Netflix might be willing to pay nearly ten times that budget for Johnson to make two sequels — apparently there was quite a bidding war to get into the Rian Johnson business — means that Netflix might be trying to buy itself a franchise to compete with the big boys.

Speaking of the big boys, Warner Bros. has decided not to move forward with two DC Entertainment projects, Ava Duvernay‘s planned The New Gods movie and James Wan‘s Aquaman spin-off, The Trench. It’s never been very clear if Duvernay’s movie was supposed to be a follow-up to the plans Zack Snyder had with Justice League that finally resurfaced with Zack Snyder’s Justice League debuting on HBO Max last month, but Warners said that the two filmmakers would be involved if the movies are ever made.

Duvernay offered her own sympathies and a goodbye to her co-writer Tom King, who has been a popular writer at DC Comics for a number of years after a strong run on Batman and his own Mister Miracle mini-series.

Despite that setback, DuVernay remains busy with her planned Naomi pilot for The CW, based on the character created by Brian Michael Bendis for DC Comics. Six more actors have been cast in the pilot, including Barry Watson from 7th HeavenMouzam Makkar (The Fix), Mary-Charles Jones (Kevin Can Wait), Aidan Gemme (Finding Neverland), Daniel Puig (The System) and Will Meyers (Bad Education). On top of that, Amanda Marsalis (Queen Sugar, Ozark) has been attached to direct and co-executive produce the pilot, from DuVernay’s Array Filmworks and Warner Bros. Television. DuVernay is teaming with Arrow writer and co-exec. producer Jill Blankenship for the CW’s latest DC Comics adaptation. Makkar will play the adoptive mother of the title character, played by Kaci Walfall, while Watson plays her adoptive father Greg, a veteran military officer. Meyers is a handsome love interest for Naomi.

Let’s get into some more casting news, but this week, we’ll do it as a brisk lightning round, if that’s okay.

Dan Stevens (Eurovision Song Contest) is replacing the scandal-plagued Armie Hammer in the Starz Watergate series, Gaslit, starring opposite Julia Roberts and Sean Penn..

Naveen Andrews from Lost is joining Mank‘s Oscar-nominated star, Amanda Seyfriend, in the Hulu limited series, The Dropout, about the disgraced founder of Theranos with Seyfried playing CEO Elizabeth Holmes.

Oscar winner Colin Firth (The King’s Speech) will star in the HBO Max television drama adapting the breakout 2014 true-crime documentary, The Staircase, from filmmaker Antonio Campos (Christine) and American Crime Story writer, Maggie Cohn.

Nate Mann is joining the ensemble cast of Masters of the Air, the Band of Brothers sequel set up at Apple Studios through Tom Hanks‘ Playtone and Steven Spielberg‘s Amblin Entertainment, both of whom have deals with Apple. Austin Butler, Anthony Boyle and Callum Turner have previously been cast, but Mann will play the lead in the adaptation of Donald L. Miller‘s book of the same name.

Lastly, actor and comedian Randall Park (Fresh Off the Boat) will make his directorial debut on Shortcomings, which is set-up at Roadside Attractions and Imminent Collision.

Real estate developer Hackman Capital continues to be one of the primary factors in the overhaul of the Hollywood studio system, having bought the Sony Pictures Animation Campus in Culver City with Square Mile Capital Mangement in January, as well as assuming operation of the historic Raleigh Studios in Hollywood and Saticoy Studios in Van Nuys. Last fall, the partners also bought New York City’s historic Silvercup Studios.

Hackman is now turning its eye to West Hollywood’s CBS Television City where shows like The Late Late Show with James CordenThe Price is RightAmerican IdolDancing with the Stars and The Young and Restless are recorded. The developer will spend $1.25 billion to overhaul the 70-year-old facility in West Hollywood — the first purpose-built television studio built in 1952 — after acquiring the 25-acre property for $750 million in 2019. Hackman calls the project “TVC 2050,” as it will add up to 1.13 million square feet of new space and is designed “to address the needs of a modern studio and promote innovation and sustainability in production and operations.”  This plan calls for nearly doubling the number of sound stages to 15 from 8 and adding new production support facilities, offices for rent and garage structures for up to 5,300 vehicles. Two stages built in the 1990s on the east side of the lot would be razed but the four original stages built by CBS would be preserved along with other historical design elements.

Michael Hackman, founder and CEO of the company, said “Television City is one of the great Hollywood studio lots. We are committed to ensuring it remains a robust job creator and world-class studio for decades to come. Los Angeles lacks the modern sound stages and production facilities to meet market demand, putting our region at risk of seeing the entertainment industry leave the state if we fail to invest in its future.”

“To remain globally competitive, Los Angeles needs more state-of-the-art sound stages and production space. Now is the time for a fully realized Television City, as the entertainment industry and the City continue to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic,” added Bill Allen, CEO of Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation.

A study conducted by the agency determined that the expansion will lead to $2.1 billion in total economic output and sustain an estimated annual average of 4,220 direct and indirect jobs throughout construction. Once finished,  TVC 2050 will generate $2.4 billion annually in new economic output and support an estimated 18,760 direct and indirect jobs.

Godzilla vs. Kong (Photo: Warner Bros.)

Usually, I wouldn’t be writing about box office until Monday’s “Over the Weekend,” but it’s kind of hard not to talk about the $9.6 million that was made by Warner Bros and Legendary Pictures‘ Godzilla vs. Kong in its single day opening on Wednesday. The movie then added another $6.7 million on Thursday, adding up to $16.3 million in its first two days. That amount is not only astounding by pandemic standards, with few movies making that amount over any three-day weekend, but that amount would have also been good PRE-pandemic. What’s interesting is that the movie will expand into roughly 3,000 theaters nationwide today — the widest theatrical release in over a year — as more theaters reopen nationwide, so we can probably expect that business to continue through the extended Easter holiday weekend. It seems very likely that the movie will gross upwards of $40 million over its first five days, including the early Wednesday and Thursday box office. You can read my review of the Monster Mash-Up here. Also opening this weekend is Lionsgate‘s religious horror movie, The Unholy, starring Jeffrey Dean Morgan.

We have an inordinate number of new trailers this week, maybe because it’s April, movie theaters are reopening and the summer movie season normally starts in May, even if the planned kick-off movie, Marvel Studios‘ Black Widow was already delayed until July last week.

First up, we have a trailer for the new film from director Guy Ritchie, which reteams him with Jason Statham, an actor who first got his start in Ritchie’s earliest films, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, before becoming a huge action star in his own right. Statham and Ritchie’s police action-thriller will open on May 7.

Next, we have the new trailer for Chris Rock‘s Spiral: From the Book of Saw, both directed and starring the normally-comic actor, which looks to reboot Lionsgate’s popular horror franchise with Samuel L. Jackson co-starring with Rock. That will open a week after Wrath of Man on May 14.

Earlier this week, Disney+ released the first trailer for Star Wars: The Bad Batch, an original CG animated series from Lucasfilm that spins off from the characters introduced in The Clone Wars animated series. The show will be executive produced by Dave Filoni (The Mandalorian, Star Wars: The Clone Wars), Athena Portillo (Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Star Wars Rebels), Brad Rau (Star Wars Rebels, Star Wars Resistance) and Jennifer Corbett. It will have a 70-minute premiere on Tuesday, May 4 (aka “Star Wars Day” as in “May the 4th Be With You”) and then new episodes will premiere every Friday, starting May 7.

Also, Focus Features  released the first trailer for Ben Sharrock‘s BAFTA-nominated Limbo, a comedy that will be released in the States on April 30.

And last but not least, if that age-restricted Red Band trailer for James Gunn‘s The Suicide Squad we shared on Monday was too intense for you, here’s a somewhat tamer and kinda family-friendly Green Band trailer that’s just as funny with lots of new jokes and far fewer F-bombs.

Edward Douglas
Edward Douglas
Edward Douglas has written about movies for print and the internet for over 20 years, specializing in box office analysis, reviews, and interviews. Currently, he writes features for Below the Line and Above the Line, acting as Associate Editor for the former and Interim Editor for the latter.
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