Paramount’s Downsizing Demonstrates Outsized Impact With an Environmental Media Award Nomination

*spoilers below*

In addition to Critics’ Choice and Golden Globe nominations, Paramount’s Downsizing has earned a nod from the Environmental Media Association (EMA) in its feature film category. The annual EMAs honor the most environmentally conscious works in film and television.

Downsizing posits what would happen if scientists took a drastic step to conserve the Earth’s resources. Matt Damon stars as Paul Safranek, a regular guy living a near-future version of the American Midwest with his wife, Audrey (Kristen Wiig), and struggling to pay the bills. To maximize their finances, the Safraneks decide to shrink themselves to five inches tall. Paul’s life in the lap of Lilliputian luxury sours once he finds out his wife has changed her mind and will not be downsizing, and subsequently divorces him.

Paramount’s film tackles heavy themes: economic disparity, political and racial inequality, and what has attracted attention from the EMA board—environmental sustainability.

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“Nothing Could Have Prepared Us For How Good This Film Is” – Critics Love Paramount’s A Quiet Place

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

When Paramount Pictures’ A Quiet Place opened the SXSW Film Festival last month, the reviews were deafeningly loud – and positive.

“Critics in attendance for the Austin, Texas-based film festival called Krasinski’s third feature film ‘a tight thrill ride,’ ‘a kick-ass horror flick,’ a ‘crowdpleaser,’ and a ‘technically sleek’ and ‘terrifying thriller,’” Entertainment Weekly’s Nick Romano wrote at the time.

They may want to quiet down. Set in a post-apocalyptic America overrun by sonically super-powered insectoid predators that will feast on any human who makes the slightest sound, A Quiet Place’s tiptoeing world of caution and fear is no place for raving critics.

That hasn’t slowed them down. With the film opening in theaters today, the stream of enthralled reviews has turned into a deluge, most of which go something like this take by Cinemablend’s Conner Schwerdtfeger:

“… even in the face of heightened anticipation, nothing could’ve prepared us for how good this film is. Using its simple concept for maximum effectiveness, A Quiet Place blends horror with drama, and the result is a near-perfect horror film that isn’t just the best scary movie of 2018 so far; it is one of the best films of the year, period.”

The film stars Emily Blunt, John Krasinski (who also co-wrote and directed), Noah Jupe and Millicent Simmonds. They survive by wit and prudence and patience, with sign language and with poured sand trails to walk on and within a padded living space designed to mute every sound. Hanging over their bunkered but secure-for-the-moment existence is the fact of Blunt’s pregnancy, promising the inexorable arrival of a screaming baby into a world of omnipresent sound-hungry monsters.

It’s an intriguing meta concept, and one that is masterfully executed in multiple dimensions. Here’s a closer look at the elements that A Quiet Place’s critics are shouting about:

It transcends horror

From its opening scenes, it is clear that A Quiet Place has a larger purpose than scaring audiences out of their seats (though “Every second of A Quiet Place is filled with oppressive dread…” notes GQ’s Tom Philip). In its insistent focus on Mom and Dad Abbott working together to keep their kids alive under horrific circumstances, the film is as much about the overwhelming responsibility and challenges of family life as about anything else.

“The question Krasinski tackles is what defines a family and what’s needed to preserve it?” asks Peter Travers in Rolling Stone. “’Who are we,’ asks Mom, ‘if we can’t protect our children?’ The answers are worked out with satisfying complexity and genuine feeling, proving indeed that home is where family is.”

Left to right: Noah Jupe plays Marcus Abbott, Millicent Simmonds plays Regan Abbott and John Krasinski plays Lee Abbott in A QUIET PLACE, from Paramount Pictures.

At least part of the reason this resonates so deeply is that the survivalist couple is married in real life. “… the success of the film hinges almost entirely on the way in which real-life couple and parents Blunt and Krasinski pour their fears about raising children into their performances here,” writes Joanna Robinson in Vanity Fair. “As is the case with most successful, spare horror films of late, A Quiet Place has much more to say about its humans than its monsters and is especially invested in the ways families fail to communicate even their most basic needs to each other.”

Krasinski is a great director…

Krasinski the actor is familiar to a non-monster-infested America, which has been laughing along with him since the mid-2000’s heyday of The Office. Here, in his debut helming a film for a major studio, we meet Krasinski the director. We are impressed.

“Directed with first-rate visual flair by John Krasinski (who knew?), this riveting near-silent thriller exudes the despair of a broken world with the concision of a Cormac McCarthy novel folded into a simplistic B-movie premise,” writes Eric Kohn in Indiewire. “… the director’s capacity to mine suspense out of inventive scenarios (sinking in a sea of corn, or grasping for a mattress to stifle a baby’s cry) means that every new showdown comes with a few unexpected tricks.”

… supported by an outstanding cast

That one of the Abbott’s children is deaf – meaning the family can all sign fluent sign language – perhaps contributed to their survival in a world where sound is poison. That Krasinski cast a deaf actress in that role most certainly helped transform a surreal world into a believable one.

“Simmonds, a deaf actress, is as commanding here as she was in her astonishing breakthrough turn last year in Todd Haynes’ Wonderstruck,” writes the Los Angeles TimesJustin Chang.

The rest of the cast is just as strong. “… Blunt, Krasinski, and Jupe all contribute credible intensity to their scenes with a degree of sophistication rare for this type of material,” writes Indiewire’s Kohn.

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A Partnership Is Born: Viacom and Trevor Noah’s Day Zero Sign Feature Film, First-Look Deal

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

Viacom today announced a long-term strategic partnership with Trevor Noah’s Day Zero Productions, substantially expanding the company’s relationship with one of its most talented young stars. The deal grants Viacom first-look rights to all projects developed by Noah and his international production and distribution company across television, feature film, digital and short-form video content.

One of the first projects will be a Paramount Players film adaptation of Noah’s bestselling autobiography, Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood, propelling the Daily Show host into the broader Viacom ecosystem while reinforcing a key strategy of Viacom President and CEO Bob Bakish to more thoroughly mine the company’s ecosystem for cross-brand opportunities.

“Working with the best, most versatile talent in the entertainment industry is a strategic priority for Viacom, which is why we are thrilled to expand our relationship with Trevor and his creative team at Day Zero with this cross-house partnership,” Bakish said. “Trevor’s creative sensibilities and ability to drive the cultural conversation around issues that matter to our young, global audiences make him an ideal partner for Viacom across every screen we serve. We are particularly proud that Born a Crime will be produced and distributed by Paramount.”

Academy Award-winner Lupita Nyong’o will star in the film as Noah’s mother, Patricia. Liesl Tommy, a Tony nominee for her work directing Nyong’o on Eclipsed and a South Africa native, will direct the film.

NEW YORK, NY – SEPTEMBER 28: Trevor Noah hosts Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah” premiere on September 28, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Brad Barket/Getty Images for Comedy Central)

Viacom will also make an investment in Day Zero. “I’ve found a strong and incredibly valuable partnership in Viacom,” said Noah, who has hosted The Daily Show with Trevor Noah on Comedy Central since 2015 and is signed to continue hosting the show through 2022. “Our shared vision of bringing diverse cultural conversations and exciting creative projects to the forefront of the entertainment industry and to our constantly expanding audience, continues to strengthen our relationship. I couldn’t be more excited to share Born A Crime with Paramount and the very talented Lupita Nyong’o.”

The expansive partnership with Noah and Day Zero echoes a far-reaching deal Viacom signed with prolific writer, director, producer and actor Tyler Perry last year, granting the company first-look rights to feature films and guaranteeing 90 episodes of new content for BET and other networks beginning next spring.

Born a Crime is the latest project for the rapidly expanding Paramount Players, which collaborates with Viacom flagship brands Nickelodeon, MTV, Comedy Central and BET to develop films. The division’s other projects in development include Perry’s The List, starring Tiffany Haddish (who will host MTV’s Movie & TV Awards in June), which will hit theaters in November, and a Dora the Explorer live-action film in development with Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes label for a 2019 release.

Kids’ Choice Awards 2018: Live Updates

On Friday, March 23, I began live blogging my Kids’ Choice Awards experience as a Viacom insider. Here’s what went down.

This post was originally published on Medium.

A sublime experience

I left the Forum about two hours ago (7 p.m. PST) and it’s finally setting in that the KCAs are over. And to be honest, I was a bit relieved — not that the event was over, but that I had successfully made it from New York to Los Angeles, to pre-parties, to the press tent (I got lost twice), to the Orange Carpet and finally to my seat.

John Cena gets slimed. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)

As I was live blogging, my goal was to try and keep my “live” coverage to a minimum — a paradox, I know. But as any child of the internet age knows, you can’t truly experience anything if you’re trying to document it in real-time. I’ve made this mistake many times in life — professional and personal — and the lesson is, you retain much more about whatever’s happening in front of you if you focus your attention on what is in front of you, not at your phone or notepad.

Here’s what stuck with me.

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Porcupines in the Petting Zoo, and More at Johnny Knoxville’s Action Point

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

With summer creeping right up, it’s time to plan your trip to the amusement park that has something for everyone: there’s a porcupine in the petting zoo, an oft-collapsing chairlift, an assortment of contraptions that explode or shoot at you, and a “ride” that appears to be a Medieval-style catapult that slings riders into the side of a barn. Good thing there’s free beer for every patron.

Unsurprisingly, this zone of dysfunctional chaos is under the purview of Johnny Knoxville, who returns to Paramount Pictures, home of his hit films Jackass and Bad Grandpa, for this homespun David-versus-Goliath tale of the scrappy little park-owner-who-could improvising to battle the new corporate megalith down the road. It’s a fight that is apparently best won with the assistance of negligent lifeguards, unstable slides and ziplines, and bears, both real and as costumed mascots.

Action Point, which will hit theaters on June 1, is directed by Tim Kirkby and stars Knoxville, Chris Pontius, Dan Bakkedahl, Matt Schulze, Eleanor Worthington-Cox, Johnny Pemberton, Brigette Lundy-Paine, Joshua Hoover, Conner McVicker, and Eric Manaka.

Viacommunity Hosts a Screening of Selma in Honor of Black History Month

On Feb. 21, 40 high school students from New York City and neighboring public schools made their way to Viacom’s Times Square headquarters to celebrate Black History Month with a screening of Paramount’s critically acclaimed Selma, a crucial film about the African-American experience.

Viacommunity hosted the event, which featured members of The BEAT, Viacom’s employee resource group focused on the African-American experience, on a post-screening panel. To coordinate this celebration in honor of Black History Month, Viacom worked with nonprofit organizations The Opportunity Network and Sports and Arts in Schools Foundation (SASF), which provide academic support to students from underserved communities.

Selma depicts Martin Luther King, Jr.’s fight for equal voting rights during the Civil Rights Movement, a momentous part of American history. Paramount’s re-telling of this visceral moment encapsulates the spirit of Black History Month.

Students and Viacom employees at a screening of Paramount Pictures’ Selma in honor of Black History Month – Photo by Esthefania Rodriguez

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“We’re Focused on a Return to Growth,” Bob Bakish Tells Deutsche Bank Conference

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

Viacom President and CEO Bob Bakish sat with analyst Bryan Kraft at the Deutsche Bank Media, Telecom and Business Services Conference in Palm Beach, Florida last week. In an extended Q&A session, Bakish outlined Viacom’s wide-ranging growth initiatives, from sophisticated advanced advertising products, to the opportunities in mobile distribution, to the company’s strength outside of the United States.

“We spent 2017 really stabilizing the business, and now we’re focused on a return to growth,” Bakish said. “… We articulated a three-part plan associated with that, growing share and margins in our core business, accelerating our participation in next-generation platforms and solutions, and unlocking opportunities with synergies to the core that are outside of traditional media revenue streams.”

While Bakish looked firmly toward the future, he also summarized a few of Viacom’s many recent successes: MTV is in its 10th consecutive month of growth; BET’s ratings streak stands at three straight quarters; Paramount Network launched to both critical acclaim and ratings success in January; ratings at CMT, TV Land and VH1 continue to be strong.

Here are a few more highlights from Bakish’s conversation. You can listen to the full Q&A session here.

Viacom’s diverse demographics + diverse ad products = enormous opportunity

“… all our constituencies have embraced the flagship strategy and certainly that’s true in the ad community. We’re in a very enviable position in that we serve the full spectrum of demographics, really from preschoolers all the way up to, as I said, 25-54s. … But importantly, what you have to realize about our ad business is, yes, it’s partially ads or majority ads on linear television networks … but it’s also our advanced advertising business. And that’s around instilling data-driven approaches and alternate kind of orbits versus [potential] truck [purchasers] versus men 18 to 34 in a television-centric environment, and then all the way up through actual dynamic ad insertion, which is another element we’ve added as we’ve redone our MVPD deals this year [so that] we have access to insert at the consumer level.”

A cornerstone strategy drives growth internationally

“… [Viacom’s international cornerstone strategy] started with our creation of our joint venture in India, which we did in 2007, where we went on to launch a brand called Colors and sitting here today, it’s the number one. … We then went on to acquire Channel 5 in the UK about five years ago. That’s been a homerun and we acquired Telefe in Argentina, which is number one broadcaster in Argentina about a year ago and that’s been a homerun. So, you put that all together and you have a company that grew – our international division that grew, earnings, double digits ad revenue, double-digit affiliate revenue, double-digit ancillary revenue in the last quarter and earnings, let’s say very, very strong double digits in the last quarter and continues to be on a … strong track to additional growth.”

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Paramount Honors Director and Mentor to Stars, Boom Mic Inventor Dorothy Arzner

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

Following a long tradition of naming buildings after pioneering women in film, Paramount Pictures has renamed its Dressing Room building after prolific director Dorothy Arzner.

The only working female director in the country in the 1930s, Arzner helmed films starring the glitterati of her day, including Joan Crawford, Katharine Hepburn, Maureen O’Hara, and Lionel Atwell; mentored the now legendary Francis Ford Coppola in his UCLA film school days; changed production sets forever with her invention of the indispensable boom microphone; and became the first woman director admitted into the Directors Guild of America.

1927: American film director Dorothy Arzner (1897 – 1979) and Alfred Gilks, her cinematographer, survey a scene as they stand by a camera on the set of her film, ‘Get Your Man’. Arzner is leaning on the camera and holding a combination megaphone and viewfinder. She was Hollywood’s only female director of the Thirties. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

“We’re incredibly proud to honor Dorothy Arzner, who is one of the early pillars of Paramount’s success and an enormous part of its legacy,” said Paramount Chairman and CEO Jim Gianopulos. “As Paramount, and the industry as a whole, works to increase our efforts to build more diverse and inclusive workplaces, including our film sets, Dorothy serves as a beacon for that movement in filmmaking.”

Gianopulos joined Coppola at a naming ceremony for the Melrose Avenue building on Paramount’s Hollywood lot earlier this month, where the director remembered Arzner stuffing her hungry students with crackers and teaching them the nuances of getting the most out of actors on set.

Francis Ford Coppola and Jim Gianopulos attend the Building Dedication Ceremony in honor of Filmmaker Dorothy Arzner at Paramount Pictures Studios on March 1, 2018. (Photo: Alex J. Berliner/ABImages).

“You’ll make it, I know. I’ve been around’,” Arzner apparently told a forlorn and starving Coppola step-sitting on the UCLA campus.

She was right – Coppola went on to direct dozens of films, including the Oscar-winning The Godfather, one of the most iconic films in Paramount’s deep library.

Arzner’s own 19-picture filmography includes The Last of Mrs. Cheyney, The Bride Wore Red, and The Wild Party (on the set of which she cobbled together that first boom mic). She joins actresses Lucille Ball, Clara Bow, Marlene Dietrich, Edith Head, Mary Pickford, Gloria Swanson, Mae West; costume designer Carole Lombard; and former Paramount Pictures CEO Sherry Lansing as Hollywood legends whose names grace Paramount buildings.

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Comedian Tiffany Haddish to Host the 2018 MTV Movie & TV Awards

The MTV Movie & TV Awards continue to forge a path of diversity, inclusion and all-around awesomeness. Last year, the network tentpole revamped its award parameters, doing away with gendered categories and doling out buckets of golden popcorn to those who helped produce the best of film, television and digital media.

This year, Girls Trip actress Tiffany Haddish will host the ceremony.

Haddish is pumped, to say the least. The star shared a video with her 1.8 million Instagram followers to announce the news. “It’s gonna be off the chain,” said Haddish. “Because you know why? I’m hosting! And you know what that means ― it’s gonna be hilarious.”

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Critics Rave Over Paramount’s Annihilation, “The Finest Sci-Fi in Years”

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

Anchored by a visually stunning fantasyland setting, a cerebral cocktail of plot and theme, and a fierce cast of women warrior-scientists, Paramount Pictures’ Annihilation hits U.S. theaters today to a flood of positive critical reaction.

“In just about every respect, it’s the finest cinematic sci-fi in years—or, at least, since [director Alex] Garland’s prior Ex Machina,” wrote The Daily Beast’s Nick Schager, echoing the popular sentiment for this adaptation of  Jeff VanderMeer’s novel of the same name.

The premise is simple enough: a meteorite crashes into a Florida lighthouse, unleashing a mysterious rippling force field dubbed the Shimmer. This dancing wall of color and motion slowly expands, and the zone within changes, like a puncture in reality, filling with enormous genetically mutated animals, overgrown plants sized and shaped like humans, and other oddities alternately novel and terrifying. Eleven expeditions have entered – only one person has returned: Kane (Oscar Isaac), the husband of ex-soldier/biologist Lena (Natalie Portman). He is diseased and dying and has been reduced to a sub-human state of mumbling and fear.

Partly in hopes of saving him, Lena joins an all-woman expeditionary force – led by psychologist Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and also including another doctor, Anya (Gina Rodriguez), physicist Josie (Tessa Thompson), and anthropologist Cass (Tuva Novotny) – on an exploration and recovery mission. Within the Shimmer, they lose communication with the outside world. Their compasses and other instruments fail. As they trek through the increasingly wild landscape, the DNA mutations transforming the forest creatures infest their bodies, their memories fail, they lose their sense of space and time.

What happens between there and the final wrenching scenes has critics elated. “Annihilation is a ferocious, feral, female-centric update of fearsome monster classics like The Thing and Alien,” writes Todd McCarthy in the Hollywood Reporter.

Here’s a deeper look at what the critics love most about Annihilation:

It’s smart

“This is a serious, considered film,” writes Richard Lawson in Vanity Fair.

And it is. At once a thriller, a science fiction thought piece, a horror flick, and a tale of environmental catastrophe – while hinting at humanity’s ultimate helplessness against a huge and ruthless universe – Annihilation manages to accomplish many things at once with an expansive and intricate plot.

“For those willing to put in the effort, Annihilation achieves that rare feat of great genre cinema, where audiences are not merely thrilled … but also feel as if their minds have been expanded along the way,” writes Peter Debruge in Variety.

It’s beautiful

Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny, Natalie Portman and Jennifer Jason Leigh in Annihilation from Paramount Pictures and Skydance.

Wandering this other-Earth burbling dreamlike within the Shimmer, the explorers amble over a landscape that resembles some videogame fantasy world, where predators roar with the screams of past victims and the intensifying light elides the distinction between illusion and reality.

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