Monthly Archives: February 2009

Dr. Ruth Harley Speaks

And It Isn’t Encouraging In The Least Bit

This came in from Screenhub via somebody who is willing to let it out. It should be let out, really, given that it contains some important bits of information, and not everybody was able to go. It’s a report by one David Tiley.

Ruth Harley, CEO of Screen Australia, promised her first concerted public speech to the Screenwriter’s Conference, and made her affinity for challenging, feisty films very clear. Yes this is a business, but the joy is in the culture.

She began by retelling her experience of the Australian International Documentary Conference, and the informal discussion with Stephen Hewlett in a similar time slot.

She displayed a lucid grasp of the sector’s issues, which is probably clearer than most working producers. What is the real cost of consciously appealing to as wide an audience as possible? Is this a downhill ride to trash? Have documentary makers hitched their wagon too closely to powerful network forces? Does the market know what is good for it? Are producers really trapped and only falling into line?

The fact that she isolates these issues is important, because it speaks to a more sophisticated way of looking at the relationship between production and television, the role of the mass audience, and the dangers of surrendering to the needs of business.

She acknowledged the problems faced by the film sector, and that industries around the world are dealing with the same collapsing audiences, and what she suggests could be a plague of mediocre films. At the same time, she firmly said that the issues are real. While the sweeping changes in the sector come from the creation of a single Federal agency, and the rise of the Producer Offset, they are also designed to face that fundamental, unpalatable problem – Australian audiences don’t like Australian films.

So far, so good, but I might quibble a little bit. At least there’s a square recognition that there is no domestic demand. It’s good that they are facing up to that reality.

Much of the speech was about reasons for optimism, as she was at pains to say that she is committed to the job because our sector has so many strengths, with rich resources and a history of success.

She is determined not to accept the reframing of performance as a disaster. She cited the example of Australia, which has taken $36m and climbing, disdained by the critics but it is “a spectacular success”. She is inspired too by Ten Canoes, which she said “spoke to the audience and made Australians want to go to the cinema. It was bold and imaginative, beautifully crafted, with a strong sense of authorship and creative determination. They give us reason for hope, and contain lessons for policy and industry together.”

That’s where I start to get worried. The industry is in an abysmal mess. It’s nothing short of a disaster if the films other than the massively marketed ‘Australia’ have 0.9% of the box office. It’s also disingenuous to see ‘Australia’ as an entirely Australian film, given how much 20th Century Fox had a role to play.

She claimed that Hollywood had descended into a marketing driven philosophy, which replaced quality with hype. “You can market anything, this thinking said, movies don’t have to be that good, just good enough to be marketed. Those days are now gone, if they really existed – audiences are now smart, well-informed and picky.”

She declared that quality is back, with a special place for the niche films from the independent community. She takes obvious pleasure in the recent crop of independent films through the Adelaide Film Festival, which she says is really good at investment decisions. The Combination, from David Fields, is “really, really interesting.” She cited Disgrace, from Anna maria Monticelli, set in South Africa, which allowed her to say that Australian films should not be limited by location and subject. To this she added My Year Without Sex, and Sampson and Delilah…she celebrates a slew of difficult art house films, made with passion, on a shoestring.

Grrr. I don’t think quality was ever ‘out’. Quality is one thing that’s never ‘out’ – It’s that it’s hard to do quality without skill and it’s hard to get skill without doing and we just don’t do enough to have the skills to do the quality any more. Not by a long margin. Given how badly the Australian cinema has been going, I hardly think we’re worthy of any kind of comparison to Hollywood, good or bad. In turn we’re not in a position to critique whether they really have descended into hype over quality.

Look, if ‘The Dark Knight’ really is trash, then I can do with a lot more of that trash.

Talking about Hollywood in these terms is a little like saying the Pittsburgh Pirates and are not as good a side as they were in the 1970s. It’s true, but the Pirates would still whip the pants off a Single-A squad, and that’s exactly what our industry is in this day and age. This on-going critique of Hollywood as peddlers of over-hyped expensive trash has got to stop before we look at why our industry is in such a dismal state.

As for the slew of difficult Art House movies… somebody GET ME A GUN! *Ugh*. It’s like the Balmain Wimmin’s Auxiliary Politically Correct Basket-Weaving Coalition is running this thing,  just as it ran AFTRS and ran everything else into the ground. When are we ever going to grow out of this hyper-narrow aesthetic-bound self-limitation? When?!

She acknowledged Robert Connelly’s argument that audiences are not measured by cinema seats, but by the long journey to television and DVD, though the film’s impact is enhanced by the excitement of a good release.

Discussing television, she points again to the evident quality of the best work. Underbelly is commercially and culturally compelling, while Packed to the Rafters speaks to the experience of contemporary family life. Cable, abroad and in Australia, is creating quality television away from the crushing force of demands for mass audiences. As audiences are watching television which has once more grown a brain, there is still no place for complacency.

Harley ended with a message of inclusion. Screen Australia has moved to support highly experienced creators as well as the less experienced, and is building the ladder to create that experience. It recognises the value of past experience and has drawn on research and history to create the current approach.

Now it is time, she seems to be saying, to work with the present. For the agency, that is about evolving further, and continuing a dialogue with the production community.

Currently, the strength of Australian production is in television. This might be part of a worldwide trend in as much as more and more writers are required for television, but also the budgets are lower and the expectation per episode is much lower than the equivalent screen time for a feature production. That’s neither here nor there. If the success of ‘Underbelly’ points towards anything, it strongly suggests Australians are starved for genre content based in Australia, but with the titillation of it having been based on true stories. In a sense it’s ‘Goodfellas’ and ‘Casino’. in Oz.

The fact that it’s good is not arbitrary. It stems from a genuine desire to package up these stories in genre fiction garb. To discuss the series without mentioning it seems… uh… how shall I say this? Willfully hostile to genre pics and shows.

So what does this add up to? She is clearly film literate, a genuine lover of challenging films. She is not driven by commercial concerns, but speaks to culture, with stable production companies as the platform. She is a culture rather than a finance wonk.

If only that were such a wonderful thing. We don’t need a film literate genuine lover of challenging films. We need a film literate lover of blockbuster films. As Will Smith joked at the recent Oscars, he’s a fan of Action movies because they have lots of speed, excitement, action, special effects and FANS. Given the dire straits the industry is in at this point, we need to have somebody who’s willing to move things a little closer towards the commercial side.

But it gets worse from here:

It is fair to say that the community has been concerned over the last year that Screen Australia would end up arrogant and rigid, driven by its own bureaucratic needs, an angry disappointed parent driven by contempt for creativity, risk taking and self-faith.

It is pretty evident now that the new leadership does not share these values. Harley seems able to listen, accepts the need for organic growth, sees the enterprise as shared between partners. She put herself on display and the signs are encouraging.

Look, it’s very easy to look like you’re listening. Or to look like you care, or you share the concerns of creatives. Believe me, it’s very easy. Everybody (and anybody) can blow smoke up your ass on any given day, and you’d be none the wiser until your project gets green-lit. If the fear is that the Screen Australia would end up as rigid and driven by its own bureaucratic needs, then get prepared for some more.

There’s nothing in this schema that suggests that things have moved on since the FFC’s arrogantly incompetent days. Let’s face it, we know they’ve hired back some of the same clowns who drove that vehicle into the ditch.

Again, isn’t it the definition of stupidity to be trying the same thing, the same way and expecting a different result? I mean, didn’t Brian Rosen make these noises throughout his tenure?

From that point, she was in the hands of the audience. Guild veterans asked a series of questions which remind us there are many issues which remain seriously unresolved.

Mac Gudgeon opened with a statement. “In the last few years, we think we have identified the problem. In the development process, it is very difficult for writers to make a living. There are maybe a dozen feature film writers who make a living out of it. .. this industry needs writers to get fairer and more equitable amounts of money, and respect for their work…

… I have looked at the terms of trade. Nothing has convinced me anything is going to change.”

It wasn’t framed as a question, and Harley moved on past it. But she was brought back again, as the audience returned to the topic.

“I did want to say,” she replied, “that I don’t think it is completely buggered and won’t work. I do think the system can work. I do think there is an opportunity for writers to flower in this system, and I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t. I don’t share his [Gudgeon’s] pessimism that the new arrangements won’t work – I think they will.”

Frankly, it exasperates me no end that it gets couched in terms of optimism/pessimism. If the Titanic hit the the iceberg and these people were on hand, I think they would still try and couch it in terms of optimism/pessimism. I want more realism about what the industry can do and can be. When you think about, Mac Gudgeon’s questions are entirely realistic and not pessimism. Why can’t they respond with equal frankness?

The questions flew quick and fast. How will the performance of producers be evaluated in the new devolved development regime? Screen Australia will tend to select companies with expertise in the development process and will look at how this is expressed. She agrees that “this is a significant risk”.

What about the unhealthy dependence on the writer-director? Can it be broken down? She objected to “breaking down”, and defended both approaches. (After all, the films she cited earlier are all auteur projects).

Why do producers need to have less of a track record than writers at the top level? She pointed out that writer only development has had “zero results” over the last five years. So the system now depends on writer + producer together. But, ‘we have modified the credits downwards and will keep looking at these things.”

Jan Sardi acknowledged that the team is fundamental. But questioned whether rights have to be surrendered to producers, turning writers into employees who can be dumped off projects. The Guild is working to proactively create an agreement that both Screen Australia and SPAA will accept as fair and reasonable, so the creative roles are respected.

Harley agreed with his analysis of the problem, but admitted she has no recipe for a solution. The system has to be team based, but there are some situations in which writers should be employees (she is thinking of television) and some where they should not. She acknowledged strongly that a factory approach can work in Hollywood, but does not in Australia and New Zealand.

I wish they wouldn’t talk about these abstractions as if they have meaningful merit. Teams or non-teams. The advent of the writer-director in Australian cinema is not the result of nurturing writer-directors only, but a chronic shortage of cash which compels directors to develop their own scripts – because they can’t find a producer who can afford to pay a writer to develop a script. The advent of the Writer-Producer in Australia is similarly built on the necessity of creatives to wear more than one hat in order to get a project closer to production. If the industry was mature enough and awash with funds, then I think it’s valid to argue that wearing 2 creative hats is too much.

Heck, when I did ‘Key Psycho’, I was my own Executive Producer as well as Writer, Director, Editor, Composer, Sound Editor, and Sound Mixer. I’m not saying ‘wow I’m a talented guy,’ I’m saying, I had no friggin’ cash – but it got made, No Thanks to the FUNDING BODIES!!!

She claims that the agency will have a role in managing development, but not necessarily in running it. But she does think that accountability is important and “we don’t totally absolve ourselves of responsibility in that equation.”

So Jacqueline Woodman, who runs the Guild, pushed for a decisive moment. Why can’t the writers agreement be part of the terms of trade?

And Harley agreed. “I’m happy to do that,” she said.

Got that? Accountability!I mean, isn’t that the easiest thing to say without actually being accountable? Why is it that bureacrats talk about acountability and do things that just don’t have any? Christ almighty, let’s all watch this new mob flush the next decade down the toilet until it totally kills the industry, and then there will be a new review and a new organ and they’ll hire the same people who will say the same things and it will all go to pot again and another ten years will go by…

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United Artists (And Capitalists)

Money Games With Sprocket Holes

Here’s something from Pleiades that you ought to check out.

Wyler, a notoriously difficult director, was one who secretly relished the responsibility and autonomy he was given by the Mirisch brothers, Relyea says.

As Wilder wrote in his 1970 book, The Bright Side of Billy Wilder, Primarily: “All the Mirisch Company asks me is the name of a picture, a vague outline of the story and who’s going to be in it. The rest is up to me. You can’t get any more freedom than that.”

Relyea worked with Wyler on The Children’s Hour starring Audrey Hepburn, and during the halcyon days was assistant director on such films as The Great Escape and West Side Story. He left to work as an independent producer and watched as the Kerkorian-led MGM and UA was sucked into one of Hollywood’s greatest disasters, Heaven’s Gate.

Michael Cimino’s 1980 film followed his stunning The Deer Hunter and he made it with all the hubris of an over-praised talent. His indulgences bankrupted UA and spawned one of cinema’s best books, Steven Bach’s Final Cut.

“I just couldn’t believe it,” Relyea says of Cimino’s scandal.

“It’s so wrong because you are owed responsibility. If William Wyler can adhere to that, then everybody should respond to that.

“To think of the damage, observing from the outside, when you take a fine studio like that and take it under with one picture.”

Relyea returned to MGM-UA in the ’90s to supervise films including Tomorrow Never Dies, The Birdcage, Get Shorty, Legally Blonde and Rob Roy. The business has changed dramatically in his 50-year career.

“I don’t know what the word studio means now,” he says.

“I’m not sure any of them will exist (in the future). There’s going to be distribution companies with names you and I recognise but I think in terms of a studio being run by an Irving Thalberg or Jack Warner, I don’t think that’s going to come back, I’m afraid.

“Sony and Time Warner or Transamerica, they’re not in the motion picture business, they’re in a lot of businesses,” he adds.

“I don’t want to sound like they were the good old days because they weren’t always good, but I’m just wondering if when one guy was saying, ‘My gut instinct tells me this could make a good picture,’ we weren’t getting better product. That’s what history tells me.”

I cut and pasted that bit because it shows the double edged sword of letting directors have control. Some of them are Willie Wyler, some of them are Michael Cimino. The hyper-industrialised model has yielded a non-stop procession of comic book fodder with built-in audiences and therefore minimal risk taking. I know I took the Oscars to task for not reflecting what the audiences actually thought with their wallets, but you have to say that the film business today is less adventurous than decades ago.

Anyway, this all got me to be thinking…

Back in 1990-1991, US$40million was considered astronomical. Bruce Willis was mercilessly pilloried for his vanity project ‘Hudson Hawk’, which was a quirky stinker that had that price tag. Within 12months James Cameron would rewrite the budget rule book with ‘Terminator 2’, which came in at US$120million.

This is back in the day when a big budget movie in Australia were like… err…, there was exactly one: ‘Blood Oath’, had a fraction of ‘Hudson Hawk’. At that point in time, the Australian Industry began its contraction, and under the misguidance of the FFC, proceeded to make quirky movies with no market appeal at about A$2-5million, when the international budgets exploded. You could say it was the moment that Australian cinema got relegated out of the first division of international cinema.

I don’t know why people missed that the playing field changed dramatically with the advent of the super-budgets. It seems awfully obvious in retrospect.

Belatedly, ‘Australia’ went out to the world as the super-budget film from Australia and promptly tanked. Some would say this justifies not making films with huge budgets. I would think it says it jutifies not making films that brown off audiences.

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Capitalism On The Brink

Watching Stocks Fall

Back in 1997, I had a conversation with my old man about the Dow Jones. The gist of it had to do with whether it would break 10,000 by the millennium. It didn’t even take that long. In the last day, it has fallen to 1997 levels. One of the things that lent it a great deal of in-credibility was the fact that the share prices were rising in spite of the fact that dividends were not.

The point of investing in shares as a proper capitalist venture is that you expect to share in the venture’s profits. Dividend are those annualised share of profits. This is capitalism in its purest form. Forget what the new paradigm might be or what bonds traders might say, the point of the share market is to connect investors with the right ventures. The fact that share prices kept climbing in spite of the fact that they weren’t paying a great dividend didn’t seem to matter, and the company bosses insisted that the rise in share value reflected their good work; and that the investor should be the one to benefit equally for having the share price rise, left my father incredulous in 1997.

That is to say, my father would have much preferred getting the 6% in dividends rather than in the increase in share value. Since then, we may have seen a continued bubble on shares, thanks to the need for funds handling Superannuation monies to park investments *somewhere* and why not put them in shares? Those rises in share prices we’ve seen since 1997 may have had nothing to do with good corporate management, or innovations being rewarded, but just a blunt sum result of people’s superannuation money building into a momentum with nowhere to go.

Let’s face it, it’s actually hard to do the proper capitalist thing. It takes hard work from all involved. It’s easier to cut costs than to develop a new profitable venture. In the rush to create apparent profits, first world industries have been farming out manufacturing to places with cheap labor, thus cutting out the option of being competitive in the long term. Now that times are tough, there’s not much in the way of management that can save those firms. What good is a company whose share prices have collapsed and their dividends are still only giving at best 1% return?

It’s even more dire than that for capitalism itself. Thanks to the stopped flow of credit, the Detroit 3 are on the brink of elimination, taking with them a whole armada of sub-contractors. Whatever its ills and misdeeds, the US automotive industry represents one of the few last lines of manufacturing in America. If those 3 companies go down, and the suppliers who make parts go down with them, just how much manufacturing power is going to be left in the USA?

Yes it’s true they’ve been making cruddy cars for years and years and have only themselves to blame as they inch ever closer to oblivion, but you have to think somebody has to prop them up. Like who? Try the oil companies. After all, it was the automotive industry’s tacit alliance with the oil money that made them deny global warming, or not pursue alternative energy sources or fuels, to essentially lollygag all the way into this millennium without addressing fundamental issues about just what a car is in the scheme of life. When you think about it, the oil companies ought to be the ones who fork out the money to prop up their old allies-in-global-warming-denial. However, that is a side issue.

Here’s the thing that really irks me in all of this Global Fried Chicken thing. What if all the major manufacturers of most anything simply go under? What if all the car manufacturers of America, Japan, Europe and Asia simply vanish? What then? And when administrators come in to sell off the assets, who is going to be there to buy them that can make a better car than the existing manufacturers? And what if it wasn’t just car manufacturers, but computer manufacturers and chip manufacturers and electronics manufacturers and anybody nd everybody that actually assembles anything gets hung out to dry by the failing financial system?

Is it possible? Probably not, but then I didn’t think what we’re seeing now as probable.

So going back to the capitalist thing… this is where I think we’ve run into problems. We’ve mistaken speculators for capitalists. The definition of a capitalist isn’t somebody who speculates on the prices of things. That’s a speculator. The middle man who buys low and sells high – the distributor in most instances – is a mercantilist at best. The True Capitalist is the guy who goes and secures the capital to assemble the means of production. That’s it. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Apple, Nike, GM or Microsoft.

When banks foreclose on these guys, while themselves getting bailed out by the government for their bad debts, this isn’t just some crisis of confidence. This is the moment on which the whole premise of what capitalism is, and was, and ever should be is put at risk by all the speculating punters, all the parasitic middlemen, all the bond-traders and day-traders and short-sellers and ‘financial engineers’. All that stuff should get a new and separate term: Financialism.

True Capitalists make stuff – and sells them for a profit. They should print Tee-shirts with that slogan, just to remind people. It’s not a bad thing. It’s very creative, and challenging. It’s by no mistake that Nintendo is posting record profits even in these times. They make some seriously good stuff. True Capitalism is a good thing that brings much wealth to many people.

And you know what? As a film maker and sometime musician, I am more of a capitalist than a guy who has been pulling down a job in the finance sector. This is why I get really really angry at the way things are going. Governments are giving banks too much credit for being banks and not enough to manufacturers. It’s amazing things have gotten away from the original concept so far. Maybe when the shares bottom out, people will get the proper perspective back. You want to be capitalists? First, you gotta make good stuff, second, sell them for a profit, and third, payback the investors, and only then collect your profit. That’s the only way. The rest is all just ‘Financialism’.

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I Hate Awards Shows

The Oscars Particularly Suck

My gal loves watching the Oscars, which is fine by me, but I can’t sit through these things. I think I was a kid when I quickly got over them. I think I sat up late watching to see if Star Wars would get best picture back in 1978. It sure as hell didn’t. Kid disappointed. A few years later I sat up to see if ‘Blade Runner’ would win in its one category: Production Design. It didn’t. It got beaten out by ‘Gandhi’, which was the ‘worthy’ film that year. For crying out loud, one of the most important pieces of Production Design of ALL TIME got beaten by a movie that essentially just had huts in India in it. No offense to India, but it’s a crap choice – and nobody is talking about ‘Gandhi’ being an important work of cinema today, so we can all say that was an utterly crap moment in the long history of utterly crap moments in what we know as the Oscars.

So it was then that I got it firmly in my head that there’s a whole bunch of idiots in The Academy’ that line up to hand over Oscars to films not on merit or achievement but a more ethereal, indescribable, intangible worthiness of theme. You could make ‘The Dark Knight’  and make $533m at the box office, but hey, the worthy films are big costume dramas based on true stories or important novels. It’s great if it has a Holocaust story, because uh, a certain demographic feels compelled to hand out awards to those films that make sure the the NAZIs continue to be portrayed as the ultimate psychopathic evil on the planet. Nobody makes a film about Stalin’s gulags, let alone hand out Oscars for those. Where’s the love for the other oppressed peoples?

But it’s even stupider, dumber, sillier and crazier than that. Spielberg’s best films for me are things like ‘Jaws’, ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’, the Indy Jones movies. I think most of the movie watching world of the last 30 years would agree with me whole-heartedly. Did he get an Oscar for those? No. He got to be a billionaire through those, but he gets an Oscar for ‘Schindler’s List’.Now, I’m happy for Mr. Spielberg, but it’s so condescending and patronising you wonder which planet these people inhabit.

Martin Scorsese, who has to be one of the most important directors of ALL TIME didn’t get his Oscar for best director for ‘Taxi Driver’ or ‘Raging Bull’ or ‘Good Fellas’ or ‘Casino’ or ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’ or for that matter ‘Gangs of New York’. No, he got it for his effort in directing a remake of a Hong Kong movie ‘Infernal Affairs’, as ‘The Departed’. How fucking warped is that? Why didn’t they just give him the lifetime achievement award instead, and save themselves the embarrassment?

Apart from the bad viewing that it is every year, the way the Academy votes is like a drunken hypocritical sentimentalist with no sense of proportion and context. It’s as if they’re not seeing and hearing the same films as the rest of the damn world. The truly crazy thing is that this thing is the pinnacle of all Awards ceremonies and Awards shows. How could I ever bring myself to watch this stuff?

Heath Ledger Wins Posthumous Oscar

Good on ya mate! You’re missed already.

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Interesting Times For Business Types

BrisConnections Is A Misnomer

A Bris as you know, is the circumcision for little Jewish boys, and connection is, well, the opposite of cutting. Thanks or not to its oxymoronic/self-defeating name, BrisConnections finds itself in weird times. They issued shares in July, which promptly went and tanked. By November, the shares were less than 10c, and at some point they were trading at 0.1c. Enter a bunch of net traders who thought, look, how low can it go beyond 1/10th of a cent? They’re still building the damn road and it is underwritten.

Thus the theory would have it that the more you bought, a killing was there to be made. There was one catch: the trust units were issued with an obligation to pay $1.00 per unit this year and then another $1.00 next year. This meant that unit holders like Nick Bolton who bought 47million of the units were up for 95million or thereabouts in obligations over the next 18months.

Bolton had just become the company’s biggest shareholder and, thanks to brokers at Westpac, armed himself with 47 million part-paid BrisConnections units worth 0.1¢ each, and picked up $94 million of associated liabilities.

Bolton choked back tears as he spoke. “I have no comment to make at this stage, but I will talk at a later date,” he said, before telling us that he bought the shares in an on-market transaction, and had not spoken with anyone at BrisConnections.

For months, BrisConnections company secretary Tamira Herbst tried to contact Bolton about his shareholding and staggering $94 million debt.

Goldman Sachs JBWere was engaged by BrisConnections to try to find an institutional buyer for his stake.

Emails and letters were sent to Bolton. Phone calls were made. A couple of people even braved the rather downcast looking labrador Bolton had posted at his front door in St Kilda, in an effort to speak with him.

All to no avail — he ducked the calls and the messages.

“If you speak with him again, please tell him to get in touch,” said BrisConnections’ key PR adviser, Mark Gold, in November. Herbst put in the same request.

Even BrisConnections chairman Trevor Rowe was stunned when Bolton, now the self-proclaimed champion of the BrisConnections underdog, finally took his call last week.

“I did speak with that fellow late on Friday afternoon to endeavour to understand what he was proceeding to do,” Rowe said. “I was surprised he took the call, given our past efforts to get through to him.”

At last, the face of young Nick, in all his morning-haired glory, has been revealed, and he is starting to look very much like the Corey Worthington of the business world.

Instead of hosting a rowdy house party, Bolton has instead gatecrashed the BrisConnections boardroom by calling an extraordinary general meeting to try to have its trusts wound up.

Understandably, this move by Bolton brought chuckles and derision from all quarters of the business world. Anna Bligh’s Queenslan Labor government has to build the damn thing. There are others like Nick Bolton who are trapped with these ‘obligations’. It seems to me part of the problem is that BrisConnections floated trust units that had $2.00 liabilities attached, so no matter what the price of the units, it was going to be minus $2.00 of its value at any point in time until the obligations phase were paid up. So, in floating trusts at $1.00 per unit, saddled with -$2.00, they effectively put a minus $1.00 units on the market.

No wonder the value dropped like a brick the day they were issued and rightfully so. I’d immediately short something like that if I knew it was coming down the pike. I’m sure the financial engineer types who put together the trusts would argue my minus-1-dollar-value-issue by telling me what I haven’t factored in, but basically if you go by ROI, like most penny-ante day-traders do, it just doesn’t matter.It’s a 1-2=-1 equation from the get go. So people can line up and say how stupid Nick Bolton and his ilk were in buying these units; it goes without saying the people who originally devised them were just as dumb.

Now, what happens from here is the interesting bit. It’s clear the penny-ante day-traders left holding these units can’t afford these payments. Nick Bolton’s ploy to wind up the trusts will probably fail, but what happens if:

  1. These guys all unite, then
  2. They send in an activist as a board director to raise hell, and,
  3. They flat out fight it out in court to get out of paying?

BrisConnections could spend years in court trying to squeeze the 780 million out of people who simply “don’t got them”; and these people still might declare bankruptcies to get out of paying. What would they do then? Is there a possible upside to any of this for BrisConnections or Macquarie?

You can see the headache. This is delicious. Here’s some more from the SMH:

Bolton’s move to wind-up the company was announced to the market this morning, after documents were lodged on Thursday, and have met with an angry response from the company’s board.

BrisConnections chairman Trevor Rowe described the move to call a meeting to vote on winding up the trusts as ”a misguided and ineffective attempt to avoid its future obligations to BrisConnections”.

In order to have Brisconnections’ trusts wound-up, Bolton will need 75% of the vote.

According to Rowe, unitholders will still be liable to pay the two further $1 instalments, even if Bolton is successful at the EGM.

”BrisConnections is very concerned that unit holders may misunderstand the impact of a winding up on the liability of unit holders,” Rowe said.

”Winding up the trusts will not remove the obligation on unit holders to pay the outstanding amounts on their units including the next $1 instalment that will be called on 2 March, 2009. Regardless of the outcome of the meeting, unit holders will remain liable.

”Clearly, this proposal is not in the best interests of all unit holders and will be vigorously opposed by BrisConnections directors. In the event of the winding up proceeding BrisConnections would have no alternative but to cease trading which would leave unit holders in the position of still needing to contribute additional amounts into an entity which can never generate income.

”The consequences of winding up BrisConnections would result in complete destruction of future unit holder value,” Mr Rowe stated.

Mr. Rowe would say that – it’s in his interest. But if the unit-holders unite, they could make a LOT of trouble for  Mr. Rowe. This is going to take a lot of delicate negotiating to get Nick Bolton and people who are in a similar position to get them out of their unit-holder position – in other words, buy them out of their fingertraps. Or they might try and bully them all the way, but something tells me that you can’t bully people who have their backs to the wall. They fight like hell. So, uh, good luck with that BrisConnections. 🙂

Heck, I’m tempted to buy 500 units at a total of $0.50 myself to get ringside seats for $1000 – which I might not have to pay if Nick Bolton’s side wins.

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Say It Ain’t So – Redux

Okay, I Admit It, I Stayed Up Late To Watch The Grilling

So I watched the statement on video, and I watched the other bits of the Q&A. A-Rod really does himself no favors. He’s a terrible interviewee in that he looks evasive all the time. It makes it hard for anybody not to lend the basic charity of understanding to his statement. Instead it provokes more questions than answers, and frankly, do we want more dodgy answers to what is already a dodgy situation? I think I’ve had my fill.

For A-Rod’s part, we have to concede a few things to him. He’s given the most outspoken admission in Baseball apart from Jose Canseco. He’s come cleaner than McGwire, Bonds, Sosa, Palmeiro, Clemens, and even Pettitte and Giambi. Asking for more detail is a little unfair given that he was outed through the inaction/incompetence/faith-breaking of the MLB and MLBPA combined, and the US government that subpoenaed those results.And it’s only because some body leaked them that we’re all here saying “say it ain’t so A-Rod and where’s your fucking mea culpa?”

That’s right: Let’s not forget that the public was not to be privy to this information from 2003, and now that it is, we’re collectively making A-Rod pay for all those 104 names. It’s way too rich for the press to claim some kind of high ground as it accuses A-Rod of being evasive. And those 103 other guys sure are getting off lightly. They need to send A-Rod a very big Christmas hamper for taking ALL the heat.

As for the Yankees, they seem to be getting very tired of these PED-admissions-biennale. Giambi’s “sorry, but I can’t admit to what I did” thing was one thing; Pettitte saying, “yes I did, but only once’ was another; now with A-Rod saying “I was young, naive and stupid, I wish I’d gone to college where they teach you this stuff” routine must have had the Yankee brass’ collective stomachs churning. I like how Cashman said he liked it when A-Rod emphasised the ‘stupid’ part more than the ‘young’ part. Indeed, good sir.

Many people give Brian Cashman a hard time for being the GM of the team with the highest pay-roll, as if he’s got some wasy, cushy job; but it’s in these moments that I think he’s gold. He sure doesn’t sugar-coat things. If having to organise these horrible moments for the press with a marquee, mics, PA, etc. every couple of years, front up and keep a straight face when you want to chew the players’ heads off for their stupidity… I think it would be tough. Really. You have to take your hat off to the man.

Phil Pepe sasy it’s a different kind of Bronx Zoo now, but it’s  a Zoo all the same. I tend to agree with that easy summation too. I think about those guys now and it seems a world away. I mean, imagine if it turned out Reggie Jackson was on steroids when he hit those 3 homers in that World Series game in 1977? This is a little bit like that hypothetical. Pardon the jokey pun, but this is the Bronx Zoo on steroids. 🙂

If one had 10 lifetimes, in one of them I think we’d all like to have been an elite athlete. I would’ve loved to have been the slugging 3B for the Yankees. I wanted to be like Graig Nettles, y’know? Crack some homers, crack some funnies at the journos. He was the man!

When the current guy filling the job description turns out to be a media-circus scandal-sheet-headline and bad-PR rolled into one entity, you wonder how such an endowed human being who is living  dream, turn his dream into such a nightmare? I mean, how do you fuck up something so good, so right royally A-Rod?

*Ugh*. But today is another day. The players are filling into spring training. There are sounds of balls being hit. The guys who got signed look good, the injured guys from last year look fresh, the guys looking to make the team look keen and pretty soon it will be the regular season!

What do the Yankees have going? They have a lineup that has A-Rod and Tex in the heart. It might be the best combo since Mantle-Maris. You’d think this thing has got to score a lot of runs. I hope they kill the league pitching. I really do – as I do every year.

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A-Rod Apologia Part 25,701,932,947,462,514,234

Groan

A-Rod has his big press conference today. It’s pretty grim. He says evil cousin Kevin gave him the drugs and he took it unquestioningly. We’re all having our credulity stretched to breaking point, but that was the gist of it. It’s so stupid that it creates more questions than it solves. Considering he had a bunch of people advising him how to handle this press conference, it looks like it was a bit of a stinker.

This is A-Rod’s Statement.

Here’s the NYT’s take from Tyler Kepner.

Rodriguez began the news conference by reading a prepared statement and took questions for about 30 minutes. He paused for 38 seconds near the start when he tried to address his teammates, from stars like Derek Jeter to rookies like Phil Coke. “Thank you,” Rodriguez finally said.

“I saw tears in his eyes,” said Manager Joe Girardi, who sat at a table with General Manager Brian Cashman and Rodriguez. “I thought he was disappointed that it’s come to this. For him to look over and see his teammates, he was moved. I think he really felt like they were part of his family.”

The Yankees are tied to Rodriguez through 2017, after signing him to a 10-year, $275 million contract in December 2007, when Hank Steinbrenner was more visible atop the organization. (Steinbrenner attended the news conference but his brother, Hal, did not.) Rodriguez has stressed that he has been clean since joining the Yankees in 2004, and said he had never taken human growth hormone.

He did admit to using an over-the-counter supplement called Ripped Fuel when he played for the Seattle Mariners, his team from 1994 through 2000. Ripped Fuel contained the substance ephedra, which increases energy and burns fat.

In 2003, Steve Bechler, a pitcher for the Baltimore Orioles, died after he had been using ephedra. The federal government banned the over-the-counter sale of ephedra in 2004. Major League Baseball added it to its list of banned drugs in 2005 and began testing for it a year later, along with other stimulants.

It is not clear what substance Rodriguez was referring to when he said that he had used the drug “known on the streets as boli or bollee.” Rodriguez said his cousin bought the drug legally in the Dominican Republic.

What can you say? Cousin Kevin who straps Tommy to a chair injected him with steroids? Here’s a blog entry from Peter Abraham about how Brian Cashman was handling this situation.

Then we have Brian Cashman, who clearly would like to find a Wayback Machine, go back to 2007 and get rid of his third baseman.
Here is what Cashman said when asked about A-Rod saying he was young and stupid:
“Those are the facts he gave you, it doesn’t mean it’s acceptable. I like the fact more that he was stupid rather than young or naïve. It was a bad decision that may cost him on so many levels.”
Then there was this:
“We’ve invested in him as an asset. And because of that, this is an asset that is going through a crisis. So we’ll do everything we can to protect that asset and support that asset and try to salvage that asset.”
An asset? Brrrrrr.

Yeah that would be right. I imagine Brian Cashman feels a deep betrayal, and it’s goin to take one heck of a MVP season from A-Rod to get himself out of Cashman’s doghouse.
I also want to link to this piece which kind of gives you insight on how gormless Bud Selig has been about this issue.

In a lengthy telephone interview Monday, the commissioner of baseball strongly disputed the widely held perception that he was in any way complicit in the proliferation of steroids in major-league baseball during the past 15 years.

“I don’t want to hear the commissioner turned a blind eye to this or he didn’t care about it,” Selig said. “That annoys the you-know-what out of me. You bet I’m sensitive to the criticism. The reason I’m so frustrated is, if you look at our whole body of work, I think we’ve come farther than anyone ever dreamed possible.”

Selig pointed to the reduction in the number of positive steroid tests among major- and minor-league players during the past three years, as well as the institution of amphetamine testing as evidence that baseball’s 2005 drug policy is working.

He also defended his efforts to stop the use of performance-enhancing drugs as far back as 1999, the year after Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, two now-suspected steroid cheats, staged a seasonlong home run derby that helped pull baseball out of the tailspin it went into after the work stoppage of 1994.

“I’m not sure I would have done anything differently,” Selig said. “A lot of people say we should have done this or that, and I understand that. They ask me, ‘How could you not know?’ and I guess in the retrospect of history, that’s not an unfair question. But we learned and we’ve done something about it. When I look back at where we were in ’98 and where we are today, I’m proud of the progress we’ve made.”

Selig said he pushed for a more stringent drug policy during the labor negotiations of 2002 but ultimately settled for a watered-down version out of fear that the players association would force another work stoppage.

“Starting in 1995, I tried to institute a steroid policy,” Selig said. “Needless to say, it was met with strong resistance. We were fought by the union every step of the way.”

It’s a bit like a guy arriving late by train claiming the train broke down, but he jogged in the direction of the destination while the cariage was being fixed. This is the same Baseball Commissioner’s office that had Kennesaw Mountain Landis unilaterally ban the Black Sox back in the day.

Why didn’t Bud get tougher? Why did he wait all those years before he gently nudged the subject towards the Union? It wasn’t as if the warning signs weren’t there. It should have been one of the non-negotiables. When the premier slugger on the premier team gets busted for steroids, it’s a little late, don’t you think? The Yankees are having to wear a lot of the Steroid smear thanks to the players it signed on the basis of their steroid fueled performances. If I were Hank and Hal, I’d be a little pissed off about how Bud’s timidity in tackling the issue ended up as the Yankees’ PR nightmare.

As a guy who roots for the laundry, this is just all too alienating. It also brought this question to mind: If a model inflates her boobs and ends up on the Sports Illustrated calendar, does anybody cry foul for her performance getting enhanced?

It’s professional sports. It’s not amateur sports or the Olympics. The records are all tainted, so those don’t matter. Maybe we’re all barking up the wrong tree? Maybe what needs to happen is a way in which PEDs are administered rationally and reasonably to help Pro athletes perform with PEDs without coming to harm?

Jose Canseco is now vindicated. He wants an apology.

Jose Canseco believes he was the only player telling the whole truth about steroids. Who used and when. For how long.
He was called a liar and a huckster for admitting in two books he juiced for nearly the entire length of a 462 home run career and describing how he injected teammates with illegal anabolic steroids and human growth hormone.
Now that players he named in his tell-all memoirs, like Alex Rodriguez and Rafael Palmeiro, have admitted using performance-enhancing drugs or flunked drug tests, Canseco wants an apology from baseball for treating him as an outcast.
“It’s time for somebody in baseball to say to Jose Canseco, ‘We’re sorry you got treated the way you did,”‘ said Canseco’s attorney, Dennis Holahan.
The former Bash Brother wants more than forgiveness from baseball. He wants to educate the sport, too. Canseco offered to help baseball move on from the steroid era and end the use of banned substances with education about the dangers of drugs, starting at the high school level.
Holahan sent a letter last week to union head Donald Fehr and Gene Orza, the union’s chief operating officer, offering the former slugger’s assistance.
Holahan’s letter explained how Canseco regretted writing his 2005 book, “Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant ‘Roids, Smash Hits, and How Baseball Got Big,” and wanted to restore his “good name.”
“Nevertheless, after being vilified and labelled an informant and a liar, all allegations, in both of his books, have now been proven to be truthful, including the recent news about Alex Rodriguez,” Holahan said in the letter obtained by The Associated Press.
Holahan held a conference call on Friday with two union lawyers, including Steve Fehr, and spoke again with Fehr on Tuesday to discuss the letter.
“We want some kind of joint response to the situation and some plan to move forward where Jose is included, instead of excluded,” Holahan said Tuesday night.

Frankly, I don’t blame him. If Bonds was allowed to hit his home runs on PEDs and everybody turned a blind eye, and Canseco had to limp away with 36 homers to go for 500, just because he was vocal and open about steroids, the man deserves an apology from somebody. It wasn’t like he couldn’t play any more at that point. They, as in the owners and front offices shunned him to put a lid on the steroid talk, hoping he would go away. Clearly, they betted wrong.

What a fucking mess.

I found this on BTF. The original’s been edited back, but it’s worth grabbing the full quote.

Group mentalities are easy. Too easy. We’re the Yankees, we all wear the same uniform, we all have one goal, we all will man up and support our guy. Blah, blah, blah, blah. It’s the same blather you hear from high school football coaches; from college basketball coaches; hell, from Klan leaders and gang leaders. We are one. We stand together. Be a man. Fight the power.

Bulls$%#.

Being a man (which, for the record, is one of the dumbest phrases ever; is “being a man” different than “being a woman?” Are we tougher, stronger, more courageous than women? Hardly) means having guts to go against the uniform and the expected behavior. Of course the Yankees are going to stand behind Rodriguez—because 95% of these boobs have never taken a stand in their lives. The foundation of their existences centers around repetition and precision; doing as told and being robotic in response and output. That, more than anything, is why I’d rather my daughter and son become bowling shoe cleaners than pro athletes. I want them to be blessed with conviction and decency, not mindless adherence.

So, New York Yankee players, line up behind a man who cheated; who lied; who shamed the game. Line up behind someone who has shown you and your profession no respect.

Line up behind him—because he would line up behind you.

Totally agreed. It shits me quite a bit that the Yankees are trotting out their star players to ‘support’ A-Rod. Support him for what exactly? To hold his hand through this tough time, having cheated and totally fucked up the public trust for the game, the franchise and any respect somebody might have had for the rest of them? This reflects badly on EVERYBODY – the players, the owners, the front offices, the coaches, the MLB, the MLBPA, the agents, the journalists who covered them and the fans. Yeah, us, the fans.

I want to close off with this photo of the guys from Peter Abraham’s blog:

Yankees Rodriguez Baseball

Interesting expressions on the dynasty four, huh? Mo, Andy, Derek and Jorge. Imagine what they’re really thinking.

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