Rights Available! The Life of a Tragic Dance Legend


Amelia Gray’s ‘Isadora,’ about ballet great Isadora Duncan, and Rachel Caine’s ‘Stillhouse Lake’ are both ripe for optioning.

Isadora (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, May 23) by Amelia Gray
Agency: WME

With ballet movies in vogue (Red Sparrow, Swan Lake), this well-reviewed novel about tragic dance legend Isadora Duncan is well-timed. Gray picks up her story in 1913, just after her two children drowned when their car plunged off a bridge into the Seine.

Stillhouse Lake (Thomas & Mercer, July 1) by Rachel Caine
Agency: CAA

Perfect for an actress looking for a challenging role, this suspense thriller follows a shy housewife who, after discovering her husband is a serial killer, morphs into a gun-toting warrior who tries to build a new life for her kids — only to have trouble follow her.

This story first appeared in the July 19 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.



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Hollywood Rethinks Key Movie Franchises Amid a Mixed Summer at the Box Office




Humdrum numbers leave some brands in question, with lower budgets and younger casts likely for those that return.



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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: 3 Ways to Build a Better Black Superhero


It’s not just about the superpowers. Every African-American comic book protagonist must have these important characteristics, writes the NBA great and THR columnist.

When I was a kid, Batman and Superman didn’t just kick supervillains’ butts, they also helped me battle the slings and arrows of outrageous adolescence. I had already read many exciting classic novels like The Three Musketeers, Ivanhoe and Treasure Island, which gave me hope that — unlike the mind-numbingly boring daily routine of childhood — adulthood could be an exciting adventure in which the battle to defeat evil and corruption paid off in massive public adoration and endless attractive women. Comic books were a modern shorthand version of those thick old books, made more exciting by the addition of superpowers or cool gadgets.

Then along came Spider-Man in 1962, when I was 15, the same age as poor, pitiful Peter Parker. Not only was he struggling to deal with his new Spidey powers, but he was fighting an even more evil nemesis: high school. Every high school kid understands the debilitating torment of being a teen, and how it seems like you have a secret identity — the polite, mild-mannered kid your parents want you to be hiding the bursting hormonal desires, demonic drives and unbridled energy that are the real you. Spider-Man was the perfect expression of that adolescent angst of id versus superego. But when you happened to be a teenage person of color, you had an additional secret identity — especially if, like me, you were one of only a few blacks in a white high school. Everything you did was scrutinized as a representation of how all African-Americans behaved and thought. You were the default ambassador of blackness.

Today, kids of color have it easier, at least when it comes to finding relatable comic book heroes, because this is a golden age of black comic book characters no longer relegated to servant or sidekick status. There’s now a cornucopia of center-stage black heroes, who run the full spectrum, from the traditional costumed male crime fighters like Spawn, Blade, Falcon, War Machine, Green Lantern, Luke Cage, Black Panther and half-black, half-Puerto Rican Spider-Man Miles Morales, to female warriors like Kamau Kogo (Bitch Planet), Amanda Waller (Suicide Squad), Moon Girl (Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur) and Michonne (Walking Dead). Marvel even has several Muslim female superheroes, including Ms. Marvel, Monet St. Croix and the second Black Widow. There’s a black Watson and Holmes series; a black NBA player turned inhuman, Mosaic; and a terrific black interpretation of the Frankenstein story called Victor LaValle’s Destroyer. But not all black characters are created equal. For me, there are certain characteristics a writer must consider when crafting a black comic book protagonist. After all, with great storytelling power comes … you know the rest.

First, a black superhero must have a social conscience that makes them aware that they are a minority and what that means to them and all others who are marginalized. Being black isn’t just having the colorist shade the skin darker, it’s a significant personal element that motivates the character’s actions. The character doesn’t have to start out full-throttle altruistic and self-aware. In fact, it can be a much more exciting story for the character to start selfish because they’ve been marginalized (“I don’t owe this world anything!”) and slowly come to the realization of their connection to society, even an imperfect society.

Second, the character should have a sense of humor, especially about themselves. The degree of humor depends on the overall tone. Michonne in Walking Dead can’t be cutting off zombie heads then using them as ventriloquist dummies. Having dour, humorless heroes only works if other characters poke fun at their dourness, as happens in Batman, with Robin, Alfred and Catwoman getting laughs off Bruce Wayne’s brooding self-importance. Humor is even more important for minority heroes because otherwise their earnestness overwhelms the story, making it seem like a political diatribe rather than an adventure story. A great story can be both, but humor makes it more subtle.

Finally, the character should be smart. It’s not enough to defeat the enemy with superior power, the hero must also be able to outwit them. One enduring racial stereotype is the black man who is more brawn than brain, the runaway field hand who crushes anything in his path to freedom. I prefer to see our black superheroes flexing their cunning and dazzling us with intellect as much as with their supernatural abilities. We have to promote the idea that anyone can attain knowledge — even as we entertain our fantasies of powers beyond science. Invisibility is nice, but intelligence wins the day.

My own graphic novel, Mycroft Holmes and the Apocalypse Handbook, features the very white brother of Sherlock Holmes out to save the world. My spin was to pair him with part-Native American and part-black Lark Adler, the partner — definitely not a sidekick — who rivals him in every way and surpasses him in some. My main goal was to throw these two together for an exciting and sexy adventure. But my subtext was to have a character who represents the exploited Americans (Indians, blacks, women) fighting alongside an enlightened white man to save the U.S. from a villain who represents the corrupt ideals of racism, sexism, xenophobia and class snobbery. Mycroft and Lark are funny, smart, brave and have dark pasts they want redemption from. After all, second chances are what America is all about. And the rising tide of black comic book characters lifts all of us closer. As Lark tells Mycroft, “This country may not treat me the way it should, but the Constitution says it wants to. I just want to help it get to that point.”

This story first appeared in the July 19 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.



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Hollywood Flashback: In 1943, 'Mrs. Miniver' Mined Dunkirk for Six Oscars


Director William Wyler’s film, which took home the Academy Award for best picture, focused on a British family trying to survive the war. Christopher Nolan’s take on the World War II battle hits theaters July 21.

Warner Bros. can only hope that Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, which opens July 21, does as well as the first Hollywood movie to touch on that eight-day World War II battle/evacuation: Mrs. Miniver won six Oscars, including best picture.

While 1942’s $1.34 million ($20 million today) MGM production focused on an upper-middle-class British family trying to survive the war, one key plot element is the father sailing with the 800 boats that in 1940 rescued about 340,000 British and French troops surrounded by the German army in the French port of Dunkirk.

The film is unabashedly pro-British. “I was concerned about Americans being isolationists,” said director William Wyler, who died in 1981. He said his attitude on making movies during the war was: “Let’s make propaganda pictures but make them good.” (He also made them profitable: Miniver earned seven times its production cost just domestically.)

No less an authority on propaganda than the Nazis’ Joseph Goebbels was envious: He wrote that Miniver‘s “refined powerful propagandistic tendency has up to now only been dreamed of.”

When the Oscars were held in 1943 at the Cocoanut Grove, THR said a high point came with a message from President Franklin D. Roosevelt. “We have succeeded in turning the tremendous power of the motion pictures into an effective war instrument,” he wrote, “without the slightest resort to the totalitarian methods of our enemies.”

This story first appeared in the July 19 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.



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Meet the Most Famous Hollywood Writer You've Never Heard Of


Michael Green is on the hottest scriptwriting streak in town, with credits on four major films this year (including ‘Logan’ and ‘Blade Runner 2049’ — which is premiering new footage at Comic-Con) and co-creating credit on ‘American Gods.’ So how come nobody knows who he is?

When Michael Green first started out as a screenwriter, he read every script he could get his hands on. When he finished a screenplay, he’d toss it into one of two piles. There was a pile for scripts he thought were better than what he himself was writing and another for scripts he believed were worse. “I thought I could start to tell where I ranked as a writer,” he recalls. “But back then, the ‘better than me’ stack was a lot higher than the ‘worse than me’ stack.”

Twenty years later, there’s a third stack — his own produced screenplays — and it’s getting taller all the time. In fact, Green, 44, may well be in the middle of the best year any Hollywood screenwriter has had in decades, with credits on four of 2017’s biggest features — Logan, Alien: Covenant, Blade Runner 2049 (with footage premiering at Comic-Con) and Murder on the Orient Express — not to mention a part in creating Starz’s new hit show American Gods. You have to go all the way back to 1960 — when Billy Wilder had The Apartment, Ninotchka and the original Ocean’s 11 come out — to find a comparable streak. And yet, unlike such showboaters as Joe Eszterhas and Shane Black, Green has managed to churn out all these pages while keeping a remarkably low profile.

Indeed, there is virtually no chance any of the customers in this West Village cafe on a rainy July morning, even if they’ve seen his movies, know Green’s name. Dressed in jeans and an Oxford shirt, the bald guy forking into an egg white omelet looks more like a run-of-the-mill suburban dad than a red-hot player in New York meeting with director Kenneth Branagh (in fact, he is a suburban dad; he lives in L.A. with wife Amber, a former copy editor at the Los Angeles Times, and their two young children).

Green grew up just north of the city, in Westchester County’s Mamaroneck, where he spent his childhood studying the Talmud at a Jewish religious school that his Israel-born mother insisted he attend (his father, a real estate developer, was more agnostic about his son’s religious education). A lot of his school friends weren’t allowed to consume pop culture, but Green’s parents were more lenient. At 11, he discovered the joys of Spider-Man, kung fu movies and Knight Rider. In high school, he secretly installed cable in his bedroom so he could gorge on stand-up comedy shows and TV series like Northern Exposure and The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd.

His life veered even further toward the secular when in 1991 he enrolled at Stanford University, where he wrote a column about his dating life for the campus paper. At that point, writing screenplays wasn’t high on his to-do list, but he did script a romantic comedy stage play and contributed to the homecoming musical. “I didn’t go to college thinking that I would be a writer,” he says. “It took me a while to figure out what writing meant.” After graduating, Green came back to New York and hustled his way into a junior development job at HBO, where he spent his workday reading other writers’ scripts. That’s when he started making piles and realized he had a flair for dialogue. He signed with an agent, WME’s Ari Greenburg, and a year later, in 1998, Green was meeting with the creator of a new comedy being launched at HBO: Sex and the City.

“I didn’t even know what the show was about,” he recalls. But when creator Darren Star told him it was a dating show, Green sent a few of his Stanford columns over to Star’s apartment.

And just like that, he had his first TV credit — a season one episode about how everyone isn’t getting laid. “It changed my life,” Green recalls between bites of his omelet. “Darren had an idea that he wanted to give someone their first job, and HBO said, ‘Hey, if you like this new kid you want to take a shot on, why don’t you just give him a script?’ He’s like, ‘No, I want to make him a staff writer.’ I have taken on that; on every show I work on, I try to give someone their first job.”

The Sex and the City gig led to more jobs. He spent a season on Smallville, three seasons on Greg Berlanti’s Everwood and had a brief stint on Berlanti’s short-lived Jack & Bobby. (Berlanti says he had wanted to hire Green as far back as Dawson’s Creek and was impressed with Green’s versatility and his ability to find “levity in the darkest hours” of long writing days.) By 2007, he was even developing his own show for NBC, Kings, a David and Goliath retelling that, despite good reviews, fizzled after 13 episodes. Around that same time, though, Berlanti was producing a big-screen feature and brought Green in for an early draft, along with Marc Guggenheim (now the showrunner on Arrow). Boom: Green had his first film credit. Unfortunately, the film was Green Lantern, one of the biggest bombs in superhero history, grossing just $116 million on a $200 million budget.

Still, Green’s original draft got noticed — before it was completely rewritten by others — and his timing was excellent. “It was around the 2008 [economic] crash, and movie studios were starting to realize that there are these things called television writers who, unlike feature writers, have discipline,” he says. “There used to be a big divide [between TV and film writers]. But the studios realized that if you gave TV writers a chance, they would hit their deadlines, give you great work and say, ‘Thank you.’ “

Green Lantern marked another important change in Green’s life. “I started working on that with Greg and Marc, I had a girlfriend and a dog,” he says with a laugh, “and when it came out I had a wife, two kids and a dog.” But collaborators who know him best think marriage made Green a better writer. Says his American Gods partner Fuller, “The biggest evolution would be him as a family man. Family is prioritized in a fashion that is hard not to respect. Achieving that balance between showrunning and having a family is a very tricky thing to do that most don’t do well, but Michael seems to have grown into it as he’s grown as a writer and showrunner and storyteller.” Berlanti echoes, “Probably the thing I’ve witnessed the most, the thing that’s always the most inspiring, is that he was always great about building a life for himself, while most of us were focused on just building a career — and that, I think, informs his work.”

He began to think more ambitiously, writing a script for an action movie based on the story of Moses (those years of religious training finally paying off). The film never got made, but his script did perform one miracle: It got noticed by Steven Spielberg, who hired Green to take over Robopocalypse after Drew Goddard left to make The Martian. Working with his hero was intimidating at first. “I saw E.T. five times. You go to his office and there’s the original Rosebud right behind you and you can’t speak.” He quickly realized he had to put the fanboy aside. “There’s a strange point in meetings with people who are as legendary as Spielberg where you have to get over the fact that their name is Steven Spielberg. As a writer, you’re hired for your opinions, and your opinion can’t be “no” — no one wants a dick — but you’re hired to talk to them like they’re a person, so that you can get to your common goal. You have to find a way to build and bring ideas and bring your enthusiasms, and often just help them translate something that’s in their head that they haven’t seen yet. He doesn’t want a movie that’s just dictated.”

Green spent six months meeting nearly daily with the director in what turned out to be the master class of a lifetime. To him, the fact that the film never got made is all but incidental. “I came out of that with a new skill set,” says Green. “I now knew how to write a movie.” And that’s when Green’s career really took off, particularly a fruitful relationship with 20th Century Fox. Steve Asbell, the executive vp for production, connected him to James Mangold, who sought out Green (with Scott Frank) to write Logan, Hugh Jackman’s farewell to the X-Men series (it grossed $616 million). Asbell also introduced him to Ridley Scott, who brought him on to Blade Runner and then Alien: Covenant. And the studio hired him for its all-star remake of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express (opening Nov. 10). Green said yes to them all — he even took a temp gig writing patter for the 2015 Oscars — juggling jobs like bowling pins. “If anyone knew what I was doing on the side while doing what they believed was the only thing I should be doing, they would have come after me with baseball bats,” he jokes.

Working with Scott and original screenwriter Hampton Fancher to translate their “beautiful, lyrical, epic poem tone piece” of a treatment into a screenplay was another formative experience for Green. “If he can’t see something, visually see it, he can’t engage it,” he recalls about working with Scott. “Once he does see it, something amazing happens that I’ve never seen before: He starts sketching the scene on a notepad and those go to his art department for the scenery and storyboard artists.” (Well except for a couple that Green cops to having kept as souvenirs).

Of all the movies he has coming out this year, Green has the most personally riding on Murder on the Orient Express. It’s the one screenplay he was most intimately involved in — he’s the sole writer — and it’s his first foray into a genre outside the action-superhero arena. (Sources say Green got about $1.25 million for the script; his weekly rate for rewrites is said to be $200,000.) Branagh, who not only directs but plays Hercule Poirot, says the pair forged a close relationship, riding on the real Orient Express together from Paris to Verona while location scouting for the film. “We were walking down corridors, looking at angles and how bullets could have worked,” says Branagh. “It was fantastic.”

Here at this café in the West Village with rain pouring down on this July morning, Green is happy to linger and enjoy the last few moments of a long holiday weekend. Bryan Fuller is flying in this afternoon and the two are headed upstate to start working on season two of American Gods. “I was looking through photos on my phone the other day,” he says. “I was looking at last summer. And in the span of just a few months, I went to New York, Toronto, London, Budapest, back to London, to Budapest again, Toronto, New York and back to L.A. I just turned to my wife and I said, ‘Was I an asshole?’ She said sweetly, ‘We stayed out of your way.’ “

A version of this story first appeared in the July 19 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.



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How an Actor's Rare Genetic Disorder Launched a Career Playing Scary Monsters


Spanish actor Javier Botet — who has Marfan syndrome — has landed roles in such films as ‘Alien: Covenant’ and ‘The Mummy’ thanks to his ability to contort his long limbs and fingers in ways human skeletons aren’t supposed to bend.

In 2013, a strange and creepy screen test started making the rounds in Hollywood. It showed an extremely tall and very lean figure in a long black wig and white face mask crawling on the floor, contorting freakishly long limbs and fingers in ways human skeletons aren’t supposed to bend. A lot of people thought it was a puppet. Others figured it was CGI. It turned out to be Javier Botet, a Spanish actor who has since become the most in-demand monster man since Boris Karloff stomped around the Universal lot with bolts sticking out of his neck.

“My body is different, very peculiar,” says Botet, 39, who most recently played an Egyptian god in The Mummy and a space xenomorph in Alien: Covenant and will soon appear as a leper in the upcoming adaptation of Stephen King’s It, as well as the title monster in Screen Gems’ folklore-inspired Slender Man (which he is currently shooting in Boston). “When I was a child, I would stand in front of the mirror and fold my arms and legs to make unusual shapes. I’d move my elbows or fingers and think it was amazing. I was always playing with that.”

When Botet was about 6 years old, he was diagnosed with Marfan syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that results in extreme height and slenderness — he grew up to be 6-foot-6 and just 120 pounds — as well as double-jointedness. The condition, along with seeing his first Star Wars movie that same year, gave him an unusual appreciation of aliens (“I was drawing creatures nonstop”) and he dreamed of one day portraying monsters onscreen.

So, after studying fine arts in Granada, Botet moved to Madrid (where he still lives), got a job as a book illustrator and in his free time began making short films of himself with his own camera. Later, he enrolled in a movie makeup class, hoping the teacher would introduce him to directors. The plan worked: At 27, he landed his first monster role, in Brian Yuzna’s 2005 horror film Beneath Still Waters.

It was a tough gig: To play the creature lurking beneath a town’s lake, Botet had to spend at least six hours in makeup and shoot his scenes in cold water in December. “But it was amazing,” he says. “I was so happy to be working at my dream. I told my mother about it, and I was crying, realizing that it happened.”

Botet, who has a Spain-based agent, now works full-time — and nearly nonstop for the past few years — on films. He shot several other creature features in Spain, and after playing the titular character in the 2013 Guillermo del Toro-produced horror hit Mama, word spread of his abilities, and that screen test of him crawling on the floor started getting noticed. He was cast as three different ghosts in Crimson Peak. He was a spectral figure in Leonardo DiCaprio’s nightmare in The Revenant (the scene was cut from the final release). He was the Crooked Man in Conjuring 2.

“Javier is such a talented performer who brings a lot of personality to his characters,” says Conjuring 2 director James Wan. “People are constantly mistaking his physical performance in Conjuring 2 as stop-motion or computer generated. Despite the creepy, scary characters he portrays, he’s the sweetest guy to work with.”

He also played a dark creature terrorizing townspeople in Devil’s Gate, a role that required him to wear such uncomfortable prosthetics on his head that he was all but blind during his scenes. “When you’re without your senses for so many hours, you start feeling like you’re in a cocoon; you start losing control of everything,” says the actor, who uses mindfulness techniques like breathing exercises to calm himself during tough situations.

“When I’ve been through a few days with hard makeup, sometimes I’m tired and I think, ‘I’ve got to stop,’ ” he says. “But then I see in the monitor this monster appearing — it’s beautiful. And I think, ‘Yes! I am that creature!’ “

Even with all he’s accomplished, Botet is still waiting for the one role he’s hoped for since he was 6 years old: “I try to let everyone know, every producer I know, that my dream is to be part of Star Wars,” he says. “I can die very happy if I was a part, no matter how little, of a Star Wars movie.”

A version of this story first appeared in the July 19 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.



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TV Upfronts Defy Predictions of Doom and Gloom


Even as ratings sink, analysts estimate ad sales volume is up 3  percent to 4  percent over 2016.

Good news for multiple networks from the TV upfronts (the recently wrapped selling season). Despite ratings dips, analysts predict the broadcast nets’ haul will be up from 2016, when the upfronts brought in $18.5 billion across cable and broadcast, according to Standard Media Index.

Jefferies & Co. estimates primetime commitments will be 3 percent higher, and Pivotal Research Group is looking at a 4 percent increase. This comes as the promise of digital advertising has hit a wall, with major brands including Coca-Cola and JPMorgan Chase pulling adds from Google platforms including YouTube over concerns about their ads running next to offensive content including hate speech and terrorism videos.

Says NBCUniversal ad sales chairman Linda Yaccarino: “The inability of companies of that magnitude to guarantee brand safety was truly the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

CBS saw growth in morning, daytime and late-night, with some low double-digit CPM (cost per thousand viewers) increases in those dayparts, with demand for CBS This Morning and The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, which beat out Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show among total viewers last season. The CW saw volume increases between 3 and 5 percent with CPM increases in the high single to low double digits. ABC — which this year consolidated its sales efforts across broadcast, cable and digital under new ad sales chief Rita Ferro — realized CPM increases in the high single digit range and saw double digit increases in late night and kids. Fox, which had flat volume, saw CPM increases between 6 and 8 percent.

Meanwhile, NBCUniversal, which boasts the No. 1 broadcast network in the 18-49 demographic, had its best upfront ever. The network wrote deals worth close to $6.5 billion on inventory across its portfolio, an increase of 8 percent compared to 2016.

“I think people underestimate the ability of broadcast television, from sports to a show like This Is Us, to immediately capture the country’s attention,” adds Yaccarino. “And that’s what advertisers want — and they have less and less opportunity to do that these days.”

***

ABC
How did they do? CPM increases in high-single-digit range; double-digit increases in late night and kids.
Biggest lures: The Good Doctor, The Mayor

CBS
How did they do? Growth in morning, daytime and late night; low-double-digit CPM increases in those dayparts.
Biggest lures: CBS This Morning, The Late Show

FOX
How did they do? With flat volume, CPM increased 6 percent to 8 percent.
Biggest lures: Empire, The Gifted, The Mick, Star

NBC
How did they do? Had its best upfront ever, with deals worth $6.5 billion across NBCUni networks, up 8 percent over 2016.
Biggest lures: This Is Us, Will & Grace

A version of this story first appeared in the July 19 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.



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Two Dead on a Tom Cruise Movie Shoot: A Plane Crash in Colombia, Lawsuits and a Survivor Speaks Out


Was a tragedy during the production of Cruise’s ‘American Made’ preventable? Conflicting accounts and a pilot in a “death pool” raise questions about safety and the filmmakers’ role in it all: “Hollywood cut corners.”

The villagers saw lights flashing through thick clouds. Then they heard a sound like an explosion. When they stumbled upon the wreckage of a small plane close to a dairy finca near the village of La Clarita, in the Colombian province of Antioquia, there were three men inside, trapped in the fuselage and badly injured but alive. The plane’s tail had sheared off, and the cockpit was a mangled lump of glass and metal. The fuselage and wings were warped and bruised, covered by fallen branches, just a hundred yards below a ridgeline. The villagers ran to get help. When they returned with rescue workers, only one of the occupants was still breathing. He flashed them a thumbs-up sign and even talked. The other two had died.

Plenty of planes go down each year in the mountains and jungles of South America. This one, a twin-engine Piper Smith Aerostar 600, had been ferrying three pilots who were working on a film: Alan Purwin, 51, one of Hollywood’s most sought-after helicopter stunt operators; Carlos Berl, 58, a well-qualified airman who knew how to navigate the red tape of the plane import-export business; and Georgia native Jimmy Lee Garland, 55, who could fly and repair just about anything. The flight took off after a long day of filming for American Made, a Doug Liman feature starring Tom Cruise, 55, as a drug smuggler turned CIA pilot, which is set to be released by Universal Pictures on Sept. 29. Filming had been underway for weeks in the hills in northeast Colombia, near the border with Panama. But the filmmakers were based in Medellin, 35 miles to the southeast. This early-evening flight on Sept. 11, 2015, was supposed to be a short taxi ride home.

American Made depicts the intricacies of flying small airplanes in dangerous conditions, and so in a strange life-imitates-art moment, the crash highlighted one of the film’s central themes. The tragedy since has shifted to a wider set of questions about what happened and who is responsible. More broadly, the crash has raised new concerns about the adequacy of industry standards governing aerial work, including pilot safety. Berl and Purwin are dead, while Garland has been left without feeling across much of his lower body. The families of Purwin and Berl are suing producers Imagine Entertainment, Vendian Entertainment and Cross Creek Pictures for wrongful death and other damages, alleging that, in a rush to wrap up filming and save money, production and aviation companies ignored basic safety considerations. The families of both dead men also are suing each other, and Berl’s family is going after Garland, the survivor, alleging negligence.

To complicate matters, Great American Insurance, which initially indemnified the production companies, recently filed suit in a federal district court in California to disclaim responsibility and look for relief from having to pay under the $50 million general coverage policy, alleging that the flight in question, as well as other flights conducted during the course of production, may have been performed illegally. As each party scrambles to assign blame about what happened in Colombia, allegations suggest that the process to ensure pilots were properly trained and licensed may have been flawed. A judge has placed a gag order on the ongoing legal proceedings, and multiple attorneys representing different parties declined to speak to THR. But in court records, the litigants accuse the production companies and other parties of behaving “unlawfully and carelessly.”

Meanwhile, interviews with those involved and an analysis of court and FAA documents have revealed other troubling developments. The Federal Aviation Administration frequently conducts “surveillance” of movie sets and pilots, which often amounts to routine pilot checks, equipment installations and protocol issues. But federal documents show that Purwin and one of his companies, Helinet, were on the FAA’s radar often. In 1996, Purwin was the pilot in command of a helicopter when it crashed, killing his fellow pilot and business partner. And Purwin had a broad restriction on his Airline Transport Pilot certificate that would have prevented him from piloting any fixed-wing aircraft in some of the weather and regulatory conditions encountered during the filming of American Made. Several pilots and safety experts with entertainment industry experience say Purwin was one of a handful of maverick Hollywood pilots known for taking unnecessary risks and being “dangerous.” Three people in the Hollywood flying community say in interviews that Purwin had been placed into what a group of pilots casually referred to as a “death pool,” a group of risk-taking pilots who were deemed to be the next ones most likely to perish in a crash.

What this means for the rash of lawsuits ramping up in court is unclear. Jeff Korek, a New York-based attorney representing the Berl family, argues his client’s suit is an attempt to hold the industry responsible for its poor safety standards. “The impact of the loss of their father and only real parent simply cannot be overstated,” says Korek. “We hope to put a dent in the pocketbook of the motion picture industry. We want the industry to understand and practice one concept, which the Berl family would expect to be put ahead of all other considerations in the making of a film, namely, safety before profits at all times.”

In many ways, working on American Made was a pilot’s dream. Based on real events, the film is set in the 1980s drug-smuggling era, when Colombian cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar and others were funneling tons of drugs north via mules, boats and maneuverable twin-engine planes. The movie follows the true story of Barry Seal (Cruise), a drug runner recruited by the CIA to go after Escobar. The production called for plenty of flying in remote, dramatic landscapes over jungle canopies or a few feet off the ocean. And the pilots would get a chance to fly a plane that other pilots often view as racy and daring, the airborne equivalent of Formula One race cars. The Aerostar 600 was designed to be light, very fast and able to carry large payloads. But the plane had a poor safety record and, among many pilots, a reputation as a “widow-maker.”

Carlos Berl grew up in a family of pilots in Venezuela, where his parents had settled after fleeing Austria and the Nazis after World War II. The perils of piloting small planes in South America during the 1980s became evident when traffickers stole the Berls’ twin-engine Turbo Commander. The Berls bought another one, but the cartel returned and said they would take it if the family didn’t sell. Carlos, the second of the four brothers, eventually moved to Florida and later New York. He kept flying, racking up an array of licenses. The rules guiding airplane licenses and certificates are complex; pilots need different licenses to pilot various types of planes, and those certifications require maintenance, medical checks and frequent training. By 2015, he had a G-IV, one of the most difficult licenses to obtain, usually reserved for corporate jet pilots. That year, Javier Diaz, a family friend who lived not far from Berl’s home in Dobbs Ferry, New York, approached Berl with a proposition. A former investment banker, Diaz had parlayed his passion for flying into a gig as a helicopter pilot and ran a company in the area. Diaz told Berl he wanted help with some routine flying on the set of a movie starring Cruise about drug smuggling in South America.

Berl’s family says he placed a premium on safety, and FAA records appear to support that claim. Between 2008 and 2015, Berl voluntarily took 12 classes and seminars from the FAA’s Safety Team programs, where he received online training and attended in-person courses with certificated instructors. His younger brother Andres, who learned to fly at Carlos’ side, says his brother always used instrumentation meticulously and participated in annual factory training sessions. On paper at least, Berl seemed to be a pilot’s pilot.

Still, Diaz’s offer initially didn’t excite him. He told his family he was worried about getting dragged into a contractual relationship that might hinder his life. But Diaz persisted. Berl had long experience bringing airplanes in and out of South America; he knew the regulations well; he spoke Spanish. Eventually, Berl agreed to help with some initial flight plans and with ferrying a plane from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to Colombia. Eventually, he grew excited, says Jenny, Berl’s 24-year-old daughter. The first trip to South America went well. Berl stayed in swanky hotels, ate meals and snagged pictures with Cruise and flew home without incident. (The actor, through a spokesman, declined comment for this story.)

Then in September, Diaz called again. He told Berl that producers wanted Berl to return to Colombia for more work. Specifically, they needed someone to fly the Aerostar 600 home to Florida. Designed in the late 1960s, the plane was known among pilots as “the world’s fastest piston twin.” It was a sleek model prized for its speed, even if it sometimes came at the expense of safety. There have been more than 260 deaths involving the plane in 191 accidents around the world since 1969, according to the Aviation Safety Network. A 1998 review published by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association concluded Aerostars had “a clear-cut distinction as fast and alluring airplanes that will eat you alive at the maintenance shop or at the slightest hint of relaxed vigilance on the controls.”

In other words, piloting an Aerostar wasn’t for the uninitiated. “Pilots often call that plane the Death Star,” says Chris Palmer, a safety and risk assessment consultant who has worked on hundreds of Hollywood productions. “You had better be darn good in that craft if you’re going to fly it.” But Berl, an expert in so many planes, had never stepped foot in one. Andres Berl says his brother wasn’t interested in flying it without advanced training. He says Berl asked Diaz repeatedly whether he could get some training, but it never materialized. “It’s not like a car,” says Andres. “Unless you’ve flown it before, you need a certificate with a trained pilot who signs your logbook.”

As Berl waited for word in New York, he ordered the Aerostar manual with a map of the instrument panel and began to study. In the meantime, he asked Diaz to prepare paperwork to legally import the plane back from Colombia to the U.S. A few days later, Andres says Carlos discovered that Diaz hadn’t prepared that paperwork. Furious, Berl told his brother he would cancel the trip to Colombia. (Diaz declined repeated requests for an interview.) That night, Sept. 9, 2015, the two brothers parted ways at a train station in Westchester County. They agreed to see each other the next day. But a day later, Carlos was gone. “I guess Diaz convinced him,” says Andres, shrugging his shoulders during an interview. Later that day, Berl called daughter Jenny and told her he was going to be on set. “I told him to give me a call when he was done,” she says. It was the last time they spoke.

Like Berl, Jimmy Lee Garland didn’t have any experience with Hollywood. But he knew planes, and he knew how to fix them. Soft-spoken and polite, he had grown up in Georgia and spent most of his adult life there flying planes. He was pleasantly surprised when movie producers showed up one day at the Cherokee County Airport, where he ran S&S Aviation. Garland had licenses to fly many types of planes. He also taught aviation, and before he knew it, he and Cruise were soaring and floating in Garland’s Cessna 414, a twin-engine transport aircraft that would become one of two planes Cruise flies in American Made. Garland worked as Cruise’s double in the film. (FAA records show that Cruise first got a private pilot’s license in 1994 and obtained his commercial license in 1998.)During filming, Garland gave him lessons specific to the Cessna, sitting by his side while Cruise manipulated the controls. He noticed that Cruise “liked to participate in the stunts.” Eventually Cruise was doing all the flying himself, says Garland. “He’s a very good pilot.”

Toward the end of August, says Garland, the producers asked him to return to Colombia to fly the Cessna and help as a mechanic on that plane and the Aerostar. For the next few weeks, he flew all over the country, down to the edge of the Amazon jungle and along the borders of Peru and Brazil. He’d never done anything like it before, and it struck him as a “once-in-a-lifetime adventure.” By September, after long days of shooting in Santa Fe de Antioquia, Garland was commuting regularly back to Medellin, where he and a business partner stayed in a plush hotel. To kill time, they ate steak dinners and played blackjack at the local casino, where the dollar was worth 3,200 pesos. The flight back to Medellin on Sept. 11 was a routine part of that week’s work.

Dawn in the farming region of Llano de Ovejas had been clear, and villagers had reported stars visible in the sky in the morning. After filming had wrapped for the day, the Aerostar took off around 5:30 p.m. and headed south. Without any radio contact or communication with air traffic controllers, it rose to 8,500 feet, following in the path of two helicopters that had left minutes earlier, one of which was ferrying Cruise home for the night. As the plane picked up speed, tracing lush mountainous ridges, a cloud bank was settling in on the summits that circle the valley where Medellin sits.

Garland blacked out when the plane crashed. Colombian media reports indicate that he spoke to his rescuers, but Garland claims not to recall any of it. He says his first memory is waking up in a hospital nine days later trying to rip a respirator out of his throat. The crash left him with a shattered vertebra, collapsed lung, herniated diaphragm, 10 broken teeth, broken ribs, a broken jawbone and a cracked skull on both sides of a dislodged eye socket. His body veered close to sepsis in the hospital, but he recovered. A small piece of steel keeps his skull together. He’s undergoing extensive physical therapy. “It took me about a month to gather my wits,” he says. Liman, 51, has stayed in touch, sending him articles about spinal injuries, emails and a Christmas card. (The director declined comment for this story.)

Berl’s lawsuit states unequivocally that Garland was piloting the plane when it crashed, with Berl as his co-pilot. But Garland, in two interviews, categorically denied piloting the craft that day. “I was there as a mechanic,” he insists. The Purwin family suit claims Purwin was along in a passenger seat to provide additional instruction, but Garland says he can’t recall, so it’s impossible to say with any certainty. Of the three men, Purwin was the only one with a Hollywood résumé. He had worked on blockbusters and tentpole franchises, including Tropic Thunder, Pirates of the Caribbean and Transformers, along with about 100 other movie and TV productions. Early in his career, he had put together elaborate helicopter stunts for The A-Team and Airwolf. With his wife, Kathryn, Purwin had founded Helinet Aviation, and the company was a successful industry go-to for high-end aerial and camera work. He had donated a helicopter to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, and he had worked with rescuers after Hurricane Katrina, providing medical transport to hospitals and patients free of charge.

But Purwin’s death has led to a quiet reckoning among pilots and safety experts who are closely examining his record. In 1996, during filming for a commercial directed by Michael Bay, Purwin was piloting a Bell/Tsirah Cobra helicopter when a rotor blade clipped a boulder, resulting in a crash that killed his fellow pilot and business partner Michael Tamburro. Tamburro’s wife, Tammy, sued Purwin and received a $7 million settlement. One aviation expert with decades of experience in Hollywood says that Purwin, whom he knew personally and professionally, was “frankly, a terrible pilot, and it was his incompetence that killed his partner.” In a recent interview, Tamburro’s widow declined comment on the 1996 crash and said Purwin was a “dear friend.” An FAA spokesman, Ian Gregor, said that an examination of Purwin’s records found mostly run-of-the-mill reviews and complaints. There were a few “actual problems,” says Gregor, but most of it was “routine.” FAA records show that some of these “actual problems” involved accidents and complaints from the public. The regulatory agency issued Purwin warnings after breaches in standard protocol. In 2010, the camera ball on Purwin’s helicopter broke when it struck an electrical power wire. In 2012, Purwin was cited for flying too close to the Malibu Pier. In that case, the FAA reported that “enforcement” began in January, and the next month Purwin received a “warning notice.” All told, dozens of incidents (which the FAA defines as potentially hazardous situations) go back several years. FAA authorities say that incidents on a pilot’s record are expunged after five years or less, which could explain why the FAA had no record of Purwin’s 1996 helicopter crash in its files.

Meanwhile, since the crash in Colombia, Purwin’s licensing has come under added scrutiny. According to publicly available FAA documents, he had what’s known as an Airline Transport Pilot license. It’s one of the highest ratings a pilot can get. However, FAA records show that Purwin’s ATP was specific to helicopters and did not apply to fixed-wing aircraft. Mark Nathan Boss, a designated pilot examiner who tested Purwin and issued him a commercial license, says Purwin’s ATP “doesn’t transfer to airplanes.” FAA records show that Purwin’s ATP license came with an officially noted limitation that read, “The carriage of passengers for hire on airplanes on cross-country flights in excess of 50 nautical miles or at night is prohibited.”

That particular clause may not be relevant to the crash in Colombia because flights and crashes in foreign countries are adjudicated by different agencies with different rules. But Purwin’s ATP limitation would have applied to any flight originating inside the U.S. On Aug. 19, 2015, three weeks before the Aerostar crashed in Colombia, a flight-tracking website shows that the same plane filed another flight plan. It originated in Clearwater, Florida — where Cruise maintains a personal home and the Church of Scientology has a major base of operations — and ended in Kingston, Jamaica. Berl was elsewhere on that date. Garland denies that he ever piloted an Aerostar from Florida to Jamaica. But that flight may be relevant to the litigants in the case, including Great American Insurance, because it originated on U.S. soil and appears to have been conducted during the production window of American Made. An FAA official says that the flight would have been illegal if Purwin was acting as the pilot-in-command because of the limitation on his ATP. Of course, Cruise could have been piloting the plane, but because the FAA does not keep records of past flight plans longer than 15 days, the full picture remains incomplete. But even if Cruise was properly licensed, there still could be a legal issue. FAA regulations state that any plane used for carrying passengers for hire must be listed on what’s called a 135 certificate, and several aviation experts who work regularly in Hollywood say that flights conducted during paid film projects often require that designation. An FAA official confirms that the company that owned the Aerostar did not possess that 135 certificate for fixed-wing planes. Answers to questions regarding who piloted the plane and whether it was properly certified may emerge during the ongoing litigation.

Great American initially indemnified the studios after the crash, to the tune of $50 million. But in May, in a rare reversal, the company filed a complaint in a federal district court against the producers, as well as Berl and Purwin, alleging that multiple flights conducted during the filming of American Made were “unlawful.” The policy stipulated that the choice of pilots for flights made during filming was to be “at the discretion” of Fred North, the film’s aerial flight coordinator. Great American argues that the plane may have been used for an “unlawful purpose,” though it doesn’t specify what that could be. It also points to the ambiguity about who was piloting the plane, or whether that person was “properly certificated, qualified and rated under the applicable law for the operation involved.” If, as the Purwin suit suggests, Berl was piloting the plane at the time of the crash, the insurance company claims the flight would have been unlawful because a passenger was in the aircraft without a properly certified flight instructor giving lessons.

The Berl family is alleging that the movie’s producers, Garland and Purwin hurried Berl onto the Aerostar in Santa Fe de Antioquia at the last minute before the flight took off for Medellin and then told him that the short flight south would be considered his training, even though Berl had requested extra training on the aircraft before agreeing to take the controls. The Berl suit says the terrain of the flight path that night was “unsuitably difficult for such an instructional flight, especially one conducted in a rushed and unscheduled manner in an aircraft with limited flight data and weather instrumentation.” In interviews, several people have alleged that the crew was “rushing” to get back to Medellin that night in order to keep ahead of delays that had plagued production. One aviation expert who agreed to be interviewed on the condition of anonymity says that FAA officials with direct knowledge of the crash later told him that a dispute of some sort took place just before the three men boarded the plane. “Apparently there was an argument about needing to leave immediately, even though they had some information about the weather that they should have stayed behind,” says this source. “But it was the jungle, and they wanted to get out of there. I was just told there was intense pressure to get out as soon as possible. That causes shortcuts.” And one lawyer familiar with the details of the case claimed that Cruise had been on the plane “just moments before” it took off. It was not possible to verify that claim. (Garland declined to comment.) The Berl lawsuit alleges that this apparent rush to save time and money “compromised safety.” Andres Berl is more blunt: “Hollywood cut corners.”

The Purwin suit echoes many of the same charges but makes the parallel accusation that as a passenger, he died because the men in the cockpit, including Berl, shouldn’t have been piloting the plane. All of which raises the question of what role North, the aerial coordinator for the movie, may have played. Through an attorney, North declined to comment, citing ongoing litigation. The production companies also are keeping quiet for now, citing the judge’s gag order. One experienced Colombian pilot who is knowledgeable about the details of the Aerostar crash agreed to share his thoughts about the ill-fated trip on the condition of anonymity. “I fly there regularly, and I would have stayed on the ground that day,” he says. “You have to have experience to fly in Colombia. You cannot fly here like you fly in Miami, where there’s not a mountain anywhere. If you fly in South America, you have to be very trained in the conditions.” The Colombian authorities still are investigating the crash, and their report is expected soon.

Whatever final thoughts the three men shared in the cockpit that day likely never will be clear, unless Garland recovers his memory and decides to speak. From his years of flying in Venezuela, Berl would have recognized the sudden inclement weather patterns that could abruptly emerge. For years, Escobar had used these hills, the fog, the slipstream and the presence of multiple, identical small planes in the ether to great advantage in his rise as the continent’s most prolific drug trafficker. The moviemakers no doubt had wanted to capture that sense of elusive beauty, the thrill of flight, escape and maybe even freedom. It wasn’t yet 6 p.m. when the plane arced high, made an attempt to cross a ridgeline — and failed. The small craft dropped, smashed into a tree and began to splinter, carving a violent path through the fields on a steep hill, coming to rest, finally, in tatters on a terraced hillside, under a grove of chestnut trees. Eventually, Garland made it home alive. Purwin and Berl never did. The question now is whether it was a tragedy that could have been prevented.

This story first appeared in the July 19 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.



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'Game of Thrones' Premiere Enlisted Jon Snow to Help Prevent Spoilers


Ygritte, aka actress Rose Leslie, ended Harington’s announcement during the event with her famous line-turned-meme: “You know nothing, Jon Snow.”

To help prevent spoilers from spilling after the July 12 premiere of Game of Thrones‘ seventh season at Walt Disney Concert Hall, HBO enlisted its own A-list talent. After intros by programming president Casey Bloys and creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, Kit Harington’s voice boomed from the speakers.

“Lords, ladies, wildlings, bastards and CAA agents,” he intoned as Jon Snow. “To join our order, you must swear our sacred oath. Night gathers, and now my Watch begins. I shall take no photos, hold no phones, spread no rumors on social media. I pledge my life and honor to tonight’s Watch for this night and all the nights to come. Until Sunday [July 16, when the premiere aired]. The good people at HBO take this vow very seriously. I know you will as well.”

If Snow weren’t enough, then came the voice of his one-time sparring partner, Ygritte, dishing out her most memorable line, one that became a viral meme many times over. “You know nothing, Jon Snow,” quipped Ygritte aka actress Rose Leslie. 

THR has learned that Benioff and Weiss — both repped by CAA hence the nod to the agency in the opening line — penned the voiceover script together with HBO insiders handling the logistics of locking in both Harington and Leslie.

Added bonus: Both actors were in attendance at the world premiere, despite the fact that Leslie’s character was killed in season four, episode nine. She still managed an invite, arriving hand-in-hand with real-life beau Harington.

A version of this story first appeared in the July 19 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.



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Ellen Burstyn Remembers Martin Landau: "He Never Seemed to Be Acting"


“His work will be admired forever, for as long as there’s an acting profession,” says the actress as she recalls first meeting the ‘Mission: Impossible’ star, who died July 15, at the Actors Studio.

I can’t even remember not knowing Martin. I first saw him on Mission: Impossible years ago, and then we met at the Actors Studio. I became a member in ’67, and he was a member before that. Some enormous number of people auditioned the year that he did, like 1,500 or 2,000, and only he and Steve McQueen were accepted.

As an actor, he had a real sense of reality — he never seemed to be acting; he was just always one with the character he was playing — something that I got to know better and more deeply when I eventually worked with him [on the 2008 film Lovely, Still]. When you look into the eyes of another actor and you see that he’s totally there — that he’s not running his lines in his head, he’s just completely in the moment — it’s a rare thing, and he had it. It felt like we were jazz musicians, improvising and riffing together.

He was a great actor — and I don’t say that lightly or about many actors — and his work will be admired forever, for as long as there’s an acting profession. But I think his legacy also will be carried on in all of the people who were exposed to him and learned so much from him at the Actors Studio, where he was the artistic director for the West Coast and gave his time and his wisdom and his understanding of the craft of the actor every week, year in and year out. I don’t know what we’re going to do without him, because he was the soul of the Actors Studio.

Oscar-winning actress Burstyn is artistic director of the Actors Studio in New York.

This story first appeared in the July 19 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.



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