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Popcorn Power: From TCM to TNT...


Turner recently held their Upfront press junket in Johannesburg to unfurl some changes to their channels and programmes ahead of 2019 and announce their Powerpuff Girl Award winners. The press event featured two big display screens for video content, cartoon mascots, a smart rotating stage displaying a different set for each channel with Nicholas Goliath wielding the mic as MC.

Instead of laborious speeches, the format centred on short, sharp bursts of video content with interviews to create a more entertaining and interactive atmosphere for attendees. Extending the group's entertainment goals and aim to host cool, entertaining and relevant content - the junket was served up in style with special celebrity guest, Toya Delazy, announcing the Powerpuff Girl Award winners who hailed from all corners of Africa to receive cash prizes to help activate and sustain their innovative social upliftment projects and products.

The Turner media company controls channel content for Cartoon Network, Boomerang, Warner Bros. TV, CNN and the recently rebranded TCM, now known as TNT. Among various programming changes and new shows, they've introduced a platform called [adult swim], featuring animated series appealing to the elusive millennial target market. According to Head of Channels, Julien Borde, "kids channels are powerful and co-viewing is important" highlighting the drive toward greater co-viewing for families. Turner is striving towards content aimed at all ages with a special focus on their Boomerang channel, which features a host of broad family classics such as Tom & Jerry as well as Mr Bean.

Turner Upfront 2018

Nicholas Goliath introducing the Turner Upfront Media Showcase

A special focus area for their Africa market is the 15-40 age range, adapting the content for a much younger audience. This is part of the reason their Turner Classic Movies channel TCM was rebranded to TNT, opting to forgo the niche older demographic market and traditional black-and-white classic films for more action-orientated blockbusters and cult favourites. VP Head of Sales and Business Development, Guillaume Coffin, says the TCM brand was "good for certain people but that the people it was appealing to was narrow". After making small changes and performing some trials, they amplified the findings, which resulted in the launch of TNT in Africa.

The TCM brand has been exported to different countries such as the UK, Middle East, France, Germany and Spain with content moderated according to the "appetite for each country". A greater move towards action-driven, modern films made the Turner Classic Movies brand outmoded, resulting in a shift to TNT. As with most of Turner's channels, there's a definite coolness factor at play. TNT has credibility thanks to its selection of retro, cult-certified films and this is evident in the programming as well as the award-winning creative around its offering.

Borde says it's a "great brand to work for" and that "brands are useful to customers and creators", which Coffin complemented by emphasising the way a film recommendation will play out differently according to the frame of referral. Turner consider a number of elements when determining TNT film programming with the aim of establishing "a top popcorn entertainment channel with quality films tailor-made for African audiences". A team of experts select films based on ratings, genres and film stars... using data to determine what viewers want and curating quality content to suit the audience.

TNT logo

From TCM to TNT...

Turner have started to move from digital to public spaces through their animated channels with a greater physical presence with mall activations and an impending summer beach tour. Their online presence has been considerable, leveraging YouTubers to create videos for Cartoon Network, ordering localised content for social media to influence parents to drive brands, as well as investing in social responsibility and anti-bullying campaigns. TNT Africa leverages their webpage and has over 26K fans as part of their Facebook community, 70% of which who are South African.

The group are aware of the steady creep of the Netflix model of OTT and on-demand content and have been able to reach more people through Showmax by adding value through DStv's premium package. South Africa's market is slightly different in terms of accommodating a wide range of network speeds, but being a part of Warner Bros and AT&T telecoms, they're aware that operators adjust according to consumer appetites. Having to service the traditional satellite viewers and those who would rather use LTE and their iPad, Turner have had to adjust their offering to serve everyone. As part of their continuous improvements, they will be making HD available on TNT and a number of channels with a steady roll out plan.

According to Coffin they are investigating the idea of producing local content as they've done in Germany and Spain. The strategy is focused more on kids now, but the thinking is around how to use, fund and create universally relevant content for international distribution. Selecting the right partners and creating the right kind of content through idea incubators like Creative Lab, where they field hundreds of animated concept entries across Africa, they have seen scope. Coffin jokingly remarks "we have a picky attitude because we are French" adding that what they've seen is "very promising" and "impressive".

All in all, it seems Turner are making a number of improvements to their offering, tailoring content to meet viewers where they're at and taking a much stronger interest in Africa and by extension South Africa. Being the first media event of its kind for Turner, it seems that the Upfront media showcase is set to become a regular annual feature.

 
3 Gambling Films You've Probably Never Seen


Las Vegas and Hollywood are almost synonymous when it comes to fancy suits, flash, boulevards and big lights - making films about casinos and nightlife a perfect fit with the glitz and glam of Tinseltown. It’s not surprising that almost everyone has heard about films like Casino Royale, Casino, 21, Ocean's Eleven and The Gambler.

When it comes to drama, what better way can you leverage high stakes plots than by putting characters in situations where they can literally change their lives overnight. They’ve got the limelight sure, but what about the gambling films that slip between the cracks? Here are three films you may not have heard of, which are with watching if you enjoy the genre.

Hard Eight

Hard Eight (1996)


This is neo-noir crime thriller is a feature film debut for Paul Thomas Anderson, who is best known for There Will Be Blood, Punch Drunk Love, Inherent Vice and Boogie Nights. The film stars some big names in Philip Baker Hall, John C. Riley, Gwyneth Paltrow and Samuel L Jackson. The plot centres around a professional gambler named Sydney who finds a lost soul in John, a young man, sitting outside a diner. After making his acquaintance, he soon discovers John has to pay $6,000 for his mother's funeral.

He offers to take John to Las Vegas and teach him how to make money for a living by gambling. The two grow closer as John becomes a protégé but complications arise over several years of friendship as John falls for Clementine. Compelling characters, understated performances and true originality underpin this moody drama. Hard Eight serves as one of the acclaimed director's first films.

Owning Mahowny (2003)


This Canadian drama directed by Richard Kwietniowski stars Philip Seymour Hoffman, Minnie Driver and John Hurt, based on a novel and Canada’s largest one-man bank fraud. The gambling drama follows a Toronto bank employee Dan Mahowny, played by Seymour Hoffman, who rises up within the bank getting access to bigger and bigger accounts - soon gaining access to millions of dollars.

Unbeknownst to his colleagues, he makes weekly trips to Atlantic City, where he uses money he’s skimmed to gamble. Treated like royalty by the casino manager, his undercover dealings soon catch up with him. This character study centres around Mahowny, his relationship with Belinda and leans on an incredible turn from Philip Seymour Hoffman whose unkempt and earnest performance as an unhinged bank clerk drives this film set in the 1980s.

Even Money (2006)


Even Money follows the story of three complete strangers: Carolyn - a published author, Walter - a has-been magician and Clyde - a man in deep debt, whose lives intertwine in the world of gambling. The film stars Kim Basinger, Danny DeVito, Forest Whitaker, Ray Liotta and Kelsey Grammer, rounding off a sharp cast under the direction of Mark Rydell (On Golden Pond, The Long Goodbye).

Tense, tightly scripted, this independent crime drama gives you a strong dose of reality offering an ensemble drama with the same ambitions as Traffic, Syriana and Crash. A modern film noir we flit between each of the character's scenarios as the drama intensifies.


 
Casinos in Pop Culture


Casinos have been around for hundreds of years, so it should come as no surprise that over time they have made their way into pop culture. After all, when you think about the thrill of the games, the glitz and glamor, and the crazy lifestyle often associated with Las Vegas, casinos have plenty to offer creators.

Casinos have been featured in everything from movies to books, TV shows, and even video games. It’s not just land-based casinos that have been featured; these days online casinos are also being celebrated in pop culture.

We take a look at some of the best examples of casinos in pop culture over the years.

Casinos in movies

There are so many casino movies out there that it would be difficult to name them all. From modern classics such as Casino Royale to popular heist flicks such as the Ocean’s Eleven franchise, these movies all feature gambling venues that make for an excellent setting, as well as often being central to the storyline.

Some of our favorite examples of casino movies out there include Casino, 21, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Back to the Future 2, Rounders, Rain Man, The Hangover, Swingers, and Croupier. As for those featuring online casinos, they’re a bit rarer. One example is the 2013 movie Runner Runner, starring Ben Affleck, although it didn’t get great reviews. It would be interesting to see if any hits based on online casinos come out anytime soon.

Casinos in TV shows

There are several instances where casinos have featured on popular TV shows. Think Friends, when they all go to visit Joey who is working at a casino or that episode of The Simpsons when Homer takes Ned to Sin City to show him “the right way to live.”

What some of you may not realize, however, is that there are also a few TV shows out there that were actually centered around gambling and casinos. Most notably, these include Las Vegas, which ran back in the early 2000s and focused on a former CIA agent and casino boss played by actor James Caan, and The Casino, which was a reality TV series that offered viewers an insight into the realities of running a casino.

Casinos in literature

Some of the casino movies we mentioned before are based on popular books. These include Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Ben Mezrich’s 21: Bringing Down the House: How Six Students Took Vegas for Millions and Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale. However, these are not the only examples of casinos in literature.

Of course, there are several books written on gambling and casinos, but many of these discuss the principles of the games and offer advice on how you can beat the house. Other interesting reads include Don’t Look Twice, The Eudaemonic Pie, and Straight Flush, which is based on the true story of a bunch of frat boys who start one of the biggest online poker sites.

Casinos in music

Musicians have also been inspired by the thrill of gambling, writing lyrics about the ace of spades, deals with the devil, and more. This list wouldn’t be complete without hits such as Frank Sinatra’s Luck Be A Lady, Ace of Spades by Motorhead, Casino Boogie by the Rolling Stones, Viva Las Vegas by Elvis Presley, The Gambler by Kenny Rogers, Deuces Are Wild by Aerosmith, Poker Face by Lady Gaga, and Katy Perry’s Waking Up In Vegas.

Pop culture in the casino

Of course, it’s not just pop culture that draws its inspiration from casinos. It also works the other way around, with casino games taking their inspiration from popular movies, comics, TV shows, and more. Superman is just one of many examples of such inspiration.

Taking inspiration from pop culture to create hit online casino games is a great idea, as it can help to create a truly engaging and better playing experience, particularly if the player is a big fan of the movie or TV show that the game is based on. So, if you’re a casino looking to reach out to a new audience or create better games, then using pop culture may just be a great way to do so.

 
Two Acclaimed South African Films Coming Home


Die Stropers (The Harvesters) and An Act Of Defiance aka Bram Fischer, two European/South African co-productions from Spier Films, will be premiering at this year’s Silwerskerm Fees in Cape Town. Having had a successful festival run, garnering critical acclaim and scooping a number of festival awards for their exploration of the Afrikaner identity, they're coming home.

Die Stropers, directed by Etienne Kallos and starring Juliana Venter and Morne Visser, received a standing ovation at this year’s 71st Cannes Film Festival as part of the Un Certain Regard selection. The atmospheric film is set in a white, conservative, patriarchal rural community in the eastern Free State. Two stepbrothers, a teenage misfit and a hardened orphan become embroiled in a power struggle for heritage and parental love.

The Harvesters

Kallos’ screenplay won the Gan Foundation’s 'Prix opening Shot Prize’ for best screenplay at Cannes and the Mahindra ‘Global Filmmaker Award’ at Sundance before the film even went into production. Kallos says he wanted to explore adolescence and tell a story about the first generation to be born completely outside of the Apartheid system, alienated and burdened by the weight of post-colonialism.

Spier's second film, An Act of Defiance, directed by Jean van de Velde and starring Peter Paul Muller and Antoinette Louw, is a rousing historical drama and political thriller based on the real events of the pivotal 1963 Rivonia Trial. While Nelson Mandela and his compatriots face charges of conspiracy to commit sabotage and treason, white Afrikaner lawyer Bram Fischer risks everything to defend and save them from the death penalty.

An Act of Defiance - Bram Fischer

Both films "have the potential for both critical and commercial success internationally and at home while remaining dedicated to fostering South Africa’s unique talent, stories and voices", according to Spier Films chief executive, Michael Auret.

 
David Cronenberg Discusses the Death of Cinema


David Cronenberg - the critically acclaimed Canadian director behind such brilliant dramas Crash, The Fly and Existenz - told a packed audience at the Neuchatel International Fantasy Film Festival in Switzerland that the death of cinema has already arrived. The 75-year-old auteur, who was participating as part of a Masterclass at the festival, talked at length about the growing powers of streaming sites like Netflix and the troubles of working in Hollywood. Discussing his growing disillusionment with the cinema experience,  Cronenberg said: "the big screen is shattering into a million small screens” and “film-making is not dead, but cinemas are no longer the cathedral where you commune with other people.”

David Cronenberg

Viewership habits

Cronenberg's statements come amidst growing turmoil plaguing the film industry. Directors such as Steven Spielberg, Quentin Tarantino and Ridley Scott have all voiced their fears about the future decline of the art form. Whilst more and more people prefer to get their entertainment via platforms such as YouTube, Netflix and Hulu,  Cronenberg is adamant that this transformation is a positive one and should be embraced, saying, "cinema is changing, evolving as well." Netflix has become a global powerhouse in terms of its influence. Since starting out in 1997, it has gained more than 117 million subscribers across nearly every country in the world, amidst a backdrop of the lowest movie theatre attendance in the US and Canada since 1992, with 1.24 billion tickets sold in 2017.

Films like the documentary Jim and Andy, the Korean fantasy film Okja and even the Daniel Negreanu biopic, KidPoker, present a diverse portfolio of viewing and appeal to audiences who want to enjoy flicks at home instead of heading to the cinema.

On working with Netflix

Cronenberg told the audience that he has signalled his intentions of potentially working with Netflix in the future, comparing the act of working with Netflix to that of creating a novel. Of his potential endeavours with Netflix, Cronenberg said, "the cinematic equivalent of the novel is a Netflix series that goes on for maybe 5-7 years.... and that it is possible that instead of writing a novel I would do a series for Netflix." TV shows like Stranger Things, The Handmaid's Tale and Orange is the New Black have been lauded for their willingness to explore deeper character arcs and story lines over many episodes. Allowing directors like Cronenberg creative freedom on a scale not seen before.

It's also no surprise that Cronenberg might be headed to Netflix, at the very same Masterclass he openly discussed his struggles of working within Tinseltown and the system, even talking about his director friend Martin Scorsese who till this day still finds it hard to make movies in the Hollywood system.  Cronenberg's last film, 2014’s Maps To The Stars, perfectly encapsulated the director’s state of mind. A film that predated the Harvey Weinstein scandal, and presents a rather bleak vision of the industry.  Cronenberg's remarks remind us of the dramatic shift taking place in the cinema landscape, a place where for over a century billions of moviegoers would enjoy the sights and sounds of moving pictures. Now, only time will tell whether cinema will stick around or be replaced by the small screen.

 
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