Category Archives: Big Players

Warner Bros. Studios evolves with new CEO

By Kyle O’Donnell

Caption goes here. (Lindsay Ivins)

The long history of Warner Bros. Studios is taking a turn as the company introduces its fifth CEO and makes other changes. (Lindsay Ivins)

Yakko, Wakko and Dot may not be running amok on the studio lot, but Warner Brothers Studios is still a hectic place.

One of the most recognizable studios in Hollywood, Warner Brothers is undergoing significant changes in several areas.

The studio, which marked is 90th birthday on April 4, recently named the fifth CEO in its history. The stability of the company’s leaderships is responsible for its success, said Sue Fleishman, executive vice president of worldwide communications at Warner Brothers.

Kevin Tsujihara took over as CEO on March 1. Former CEO Barry Meyer will remain chairman until the end of the year and will mentor Tsujihara throughout the year, Fleishman said.

An expansion area for Warner Brothers is new markets outside of the United States, Fleishman said.

“That’s where the future lies,” she said.

But with new markets comes a new challenge for an entertainment company dependent on copyrighted material such as television shows, movies and music. International markets where Warner Brothers wants to expand have significant piracy issues, Fleishman said.

She noted that the future success of the company is dependent not only on the addition of new markets and new revenue streams but the subtraction of poor-performing entities.

Warner Brothers will now be a smaller, more focused company with the shedding of AOL and its magazines from Time Warner, Fleishman said.

Fleishman also talked about her role as chief communicator and said the website Deadline has changed the way that the entertainment industry is covered.

As a result of entertainment websites, Warner Brothers became a leaky organization, Fleishman said, with information released at sometimes inappropriate times. That behavior has been more controlled recently, she said.

 (Chad Garland)

Warner Bros. Studios, now 90-years-old, aims to become smaller and more focused. (Chad Garland)

“We try to be as forthcoming as we can,” Fleishman said. “We need the press.”

However, she admitted that the company would give only a ballpark estimate on movie budgets, not line-by-line financial details.

Fleishman described the studio’s latest film, “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone,” as the sixth consecutive financial flop for Warner Brothers. She knew about the poor performance before the movie opened at the box office and anticipated questions from the media.

A significant business venture for Warner Brothers is its construction and design team.

Jim McGrory, manager of construction services, described his job as like “being in Santa’s workshop.”

With an onsite construction mill spanning 200,000 square feet, Warner Brothers design team works on both internal and external projects, said McGrory, who is a classically trained architect.

In this business, some of the work of the construction and design teams is only used for a brief period despite the intense labor. For example, the construction team spent four months building and two months deconstructing a set for the film “The Hangover 2,” McGrory said. The production team used the set for only a few days of shooting.

Warner Brothers Studios also contracts construction and design services for projects at other companies such as Guess Jeans and Bass Pro Shops, McGrory said. The department also created a canister resembling the chamber of a revolver for Red Bull, which was used for sales presentations.

When it comes to in-house TV production, the company often relies on its fans to provide immediate feedback, said general clerk Mike Shulman. The public can receive free tickets to watch a sitcom filming with the idea that they will provide instant feedback on the quality of the television show.

Bob Beresh, manager of feature sales, and Bill Angarola, vice president of post production services, described sound editing as a business within itself.

From a hiring standpoint, the sound department tends to look for candidates with a music background, Beresh said.

“You can think in a sound world,” he said of those with music skills.

The sound department can be working on up to 300 projects at a time, Angarola said.

Los Angeles Times entertainment reporters discuss challenges of finding truth in Hollywood

By DiAngelea Millar

Los Angeles Times reporters discuss the newspaper’s challenges in covering the entertainment industry, like evasive sources. (Chad Garland)

Finding the truth in Hollywood is a challenge the Los Angeles Times entertainment reporters face for every story.

A panel of entertainment journalists from the newspaper discussed what it’s like covering the industry and how it has changed. The panel included Dawn Chmielewski, Steven Zeitchik, Amy Kaufman, Chris Lee, John Horn, Mary McNamara, Meg James and Scott Collins.

One challenge is the same for all — finding the truth.

“Hollywood has never been known for truth telling,” said Chmielewski, who covers technology in the entertainment industry. “It’s difficult to get passed stonewalling.”

Sometimes people stall or they don’t respond, she said.

“Behind every great story there’s a bunch of people trying to make money and people with agendas,” Chmielewski said.

The key to getting beyond stonewalling is to be motivated, fair and honest, Zeitchik said, an arts and entertainment reporter. And it doesn’t hurt if they know you have talked to a rival or someone else, he added.

Although some things in the industry remain the same, the introduction and adaptation of social media has changed Hollywood.

For reporters, live tweeting (Twitter) and sharing of stories can help disburse information and gain more followers, Kaufman said. She covers entertainment and young Hollywood. Using Twitter also allows fans to interact with reporters, she said.

For entertainers, social media has framed their entire persona, Lee said. He covers entertainment and culture for the paper.

In fact, what most fans and reporters know about celebrities comes from social media websites like Twitter and Facebook. Justin Bieber, Rihanna and Kanye West rarely give interviews anymore.

An actor’s value has diminished, Horn said, and it’s now the franchise that makes the actor.

Entertainment reporters at the LA Times say it is especially important to cover entertainers because they’ve become so influential. (Chad Garland)

“It’s the rise of the super fan,” said Horn, who covers movies for the Times. “You play to the fan base and you give them what they want.”

Covering entertainment is more important than ever, the reporters said. It’s especially important to follow the money and ask questions about what the numbers say, Chmielewski said.

“Pop culture has become such a dominant force,” said McNamara, a TV critic. “It’s an enormous force in people’s lives.”

The reporters’ recent coverage on the Oscars received the second most website views in the history of the Times. People read entertainment news all over the world.

And it’s important to write in a way that appeals to the masses, Horn said.

“The ideal story for us is one that is equally read by consumers and people in the industry,” he said. “You don’t want to write as too much of an insider.”

Still, many of the reporters approach their work as fans.

“It’s a fascinating, glamorous world,” Chmielewski said. “Everyone wants to cover it. Out of all the types of journalism I’ve done, this is the most challenging.”

Reporters covering entertainment need a good poker face, Zeitchik said, and they cannot write from emotion.

Kaufman said they have to be especially careful in covering Hollywood to be careful about what information is on and off the record. It’s not a good idea to ruin a relationship with a publicist or contact, she added.

“Integrity takes a long time to develop and it can be lost in seconds,” Horn said. “You’re only as good as your last story.”

Warner Bros. Records adapts with changing music industry

By Brandon Brown

 (Lindsay Ivins)

Warner Bros. Records aims to utilize a healthy mix of up-and-coming artists and more well-known acts to take its label into the future. (Lindsay Ivins)

One of the most historic and storied record labels has to constantly change how it finds, distributes, and markets music in this ever changing, web-based world.

Warner Brothers Records executives said they understand the importance of changing with the times, especially when working with new artists like Kimbra and Gary Clark Jr., and even as they work with legendary artists like Eric Clapton and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Xavier Ramos, Warner Brothers vice president of marketing, said the label is more about changing pop culture instead of chasing it. He used the success of bluesy-rock band The Black Keys as an example. The band’s “set up and touring style has changed pop culture,” Ramos said.

Ramos said that with record sales dropping and music videos not being played on television anymore in the United States, he and the rest of his team have to find ways to get fans to spend money on their favorite artists.

One way they do this is by signing artists to “360 deals,” which means that Warner Brothers is in charge (and gets a cut) of all the aspects of the band. In the past, a record label would only help out with the recording and distribution of a record. But now Ramos said the label is part of the artists’ concerts, merchandise, and music videos.

Jeff Watson is Warner Brothers’ vice president of interactive marketing. Watson said that interactive marketing used to be called new media. He said deals with mostly anything that the company does on the Internet.

Watson said there are three main goals of the interactive marketing team: Build a fan base, keep the existing fan base alive and interested, and get new fans for the band.

Watson tries to achieve these goals through four different online methods:
• Visual content
• Social media
• Website presence
• Advertising

Watson said the advantage of online marketing strategies is being able to see how each one of these methods is doing in real time. Through web analytics, he can see how well a music video is being received soon after it is published online. He can also tell how many people click on web advertisements.

“We show artists hard data and what works,” Watson said. This way he is able to plan better marketing strategies for a band’s releases and tours.

But even with the web marketing strategies, it can be a challenge. Watson said that when one of Warner Brothers’ most famous artists, Green Day, decided it wanted to release three albums in a matter of months in 2012, the marketing got really complicated.

“It was like a Rubik’s Cube,” Watson said.

He said that his team started putting together the marketing strategy more than a year in advance.

Ramos said that Green Day’s decision was not easy for the label, but it is an example of how Warner Brothers Records supports their artists and they do everything they can to make the artists’ vision a reality.

Making the artists’ vision a reality is actually sometimes easier than finding the actual artists.

Warner Brothers A&R coordinator Nick Haussling said that discovering the next big act has gotten more complicated since he is now a on worldwide search because of the internet.

“Location is not as important as it use to be,” Haussling said. “If you’re talented, the word will probably spread.”

Artists used to flock to Los Angeles and New York to be found, but now anyone can upload their music to the Internet. Haussling said that YouTube has changed the music industry.

Makeup artist spreads expertise through school

By Erin Roman

Kimberley Bosso has a wide range of specialties as a makeup artist. (Photo courtesy of Kimberley Bosso)

When Kimberley Bosso moved to Los Angeles at the age of 17, she had no idea she would become one of Hollywood’s most sought after makeup artists.

“I didn’t have a main goal in life,” Bosso said. “I came to Los Angeles to find what my niche was.”

Bosso, who now owns a makeup school, got her big break when she was asked to work with the Jonas Brothers and other Disney and Nickelodeon stars when she was about 25 years old.

“It was a spiral effect from there,” Bosso said.

She attended Joe Blasco’s makeup artist school in 1998, where she received her makeup license and now works for herself.

Her celebrity clients include Marisa Tomei, Paul McCartney, Matt Damon, Snooki, J-Wow, Zac Efron and many more. She said she also enjoys working with less famous clients such as Michael Jackson’s brother, Jackie Jackson.

“My range is really wide,” she said. “I can work weddings, editorial, music videos and commercials, but it’s more fashion and red carpet events.”

She said she charges $5,000 per day for a red carpet event and, between her clients and makeup school, she easily makes six figures a year.

“A lot of people who are just makeup artists in this town, maybe only bring in $3-$4,000 a month,” she said. “But when you break into the celebrity circuit, maybe you’ll go on tour with someone and you’ll be their personal makeup artist, you can make $200,000 a year.”

While she’s proud of all of her clients, she said people who aren’t extremely famous are sometimes more fun to work with.

“A-Listers are like ‘wham-bam,’ you go do their makeup and leave,” she said.

As for her makeup school, Bosso trains girls from all over the world in a four-day intensive professional makeup artist course.

“I get girls from as far as Ireland, Norway, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Guatemala, Mexico City, and a lot from Europe and Australia,” she said.

Bosso got her big break at 25 when she did makeup for Nickelodeon stars. (Courtesy of Kimberley Bosso)

Bosso said she doesn’t train any more than four students at a time and the total cost for the course is $4,999.

Graciela Godinez, 18, received her professional makeup license by taking one of Bosso’s courses.

“I’m still under her wing and she’s still mentoring me,” Godinez said. “She gives me opportunities to work alongside her.”

Godinez said her goal is to be a celebrity makeup artist just like Bosso. She also said she would like to do fashion shows and runway.

She said she had the opportunity to work with Bosso at the Grammy’s and, shortly after receiving her license, Bosso asked her to assist with a wedding.

“I thought I was just going to be able to clean her brushes and be there to assist her and keep learning,” she said. “But she had me actually doing the makeup along with her on some of the bridesmaids.”

Godinez said Bosso teaches her students everything she knows, even if it took her a long time to learn something.

“She doesn’t hold back on any of her knowledge with her students,” she said.

During the course, Bosso teaches topics such as contouring, bridal makeup, lash application, high fashion, era makeup, men’s grooming, brow shaping, face and eye shapes, airbrushing and business and marketing.

Bosso also teaches a one-day intensive course that costs $1,199, a two-hour class that costs $500, and a one-hour private lesson that costs $300.

CBS voted her the top makeup artist in Los Angeles, and LA Confidential Magazine voted her one of the best places to get makeup done in Los Angeles.

“The past year was a whirlwind,” Bosso said. “It has been the best year, so far, for my makeup career.”

Los Angeles fashion scene fuels industry

By Moriah Costa

Caption goes here.

The focus on fashion in Los Angeles has led to a strong manufacturing and design community around companies like Guess and Levi’s. (Moriah Costa)

From well-known fashion labels to small designers just starting their business, Los Angeles has a vibrant manufacturing and designing community.

The city is home to the Los Angeles Fashion District, the famous fashion street Rodeo Drive, and apparel manufacturers American Apparel, Guess and Levi’s, among others.

In 2011, apparel manufactured in California was estimated to be worth $6.1 billion of shipments, according to a report from the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. The information was based on data from 2009.

As of October 2012, the same report stated the fashion industry in Los Angeles employed 70, 900 people, down 3.3 percent from the previous year.

For fashion designers Gerry Kelly and Sharron Valk, Los Angeles provides them with the opportunity to create their own small business designing the clothes they love.

Inspired by the desert

San Francisco based denim line Sonas Denim was founded by Gerry Kelly in 2010 after years of seeking a replacement for a pair of patchwork pants. He bought the pants in 2001 from vintage store in San Francisco to wear to the Burning Man festival, a week-long arts and musical festival in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada. Unable to find another pair, a friend of Kelly’s suggested he have them made by a local seamstress.

“My wife and I would sit on our living room floor, placing different patches in different areas, and then I’d bring them over to another person’s house and she’d sew them into blankets and we’d cut the pattern out of blankets,” he said.

Kelly said he started wearing the pants to parties in San Francisco and got a lot of interest in his design. At the same time, his real estate firm went out of business and he thought, why not turn this into a business?

Kelly started working with Skyblue Sewing Manufacturers, the only denim factory in the Bay area, and sold his jeans at local trade shows and house parties.

“They were still very ‘festival,’ they weren’t for everyone,” he said.

It wasn’t until Kelly went to the FOCUS Showcase at the L.A. Fashion Market that his jeans started to receive attention. Despite spending thousands of dollars for a 10-by-10 booth, Kelly didn’t sell one pair of jeans. Instead, a reporter for the California Apparel News wrote an article on his jeans called “Patched Pants.” It was just a story about an Irish guy who wanted to start a denim company, Kelly said.

“And the following week I got a phone call from a guy, back in San Francisco, and this guy calls me up and says ‘my name is Allan Chevalier, you’ve probably never heard of me but back in the ‘70s and ‘80s I had some very successful companies. I specialize in women’s pants. I think you’ve got something going on but it needs to be cleaned up a bit. I’d like to meet you,’ ” Kelly said.

Chevalier, who had worked with fashion designers Fred Segal and Ron Herman in the ‘70s, stayed at Kelly’s house for five days discussing different cuts of jeans, he said.

Two weeks later, Kelly stayed on Chevalier’s couch after there were production difficulties with Skyblue producing his jeans. In four days, they had designed eight different types of jeans and had them produced in Los Angeles.

“Things are starting to really take off,” Kelly said.

He does all of his production in Los Angeles and sells to stores in San Francisco, Los Angeles and online at Most of his customers are from the San Francisco area, he said.

He said he recently met fashion icon Janice Dickinsen, who modeled a pair of Kelly’s jeans. Other stars that have worn Sonas Denim jeans include Laurie Holden from “The Walking Dead,” Sofia Milos from “CSI: Miami” and Romi Klinger from “The Real World.”

“As much as I hate to say it, (in the fashion business) you have to be in the entertainment business as well, because a lot of trends and a lot of fashion is dictated by Hollywood,” Kelly said.

He said the hardest part of being in the fashion industry is marketing his product.

“You can have the best jeans, the best skirt, the best dress, the best anything in the world, but if nobody knows about it, it’s no good,” he said.

Exotic swimwear

Sharron Valk said there is a good profit margin in making bikinis, but that there is also plenty of competition from other companies. (Moriah Costa)

Sharron Valk started her swimwear and yoga line, Sharrari, after her father suggested she could make a profit from selling bikinis.

“He was thinking of like little string bikinis, selling for like $150 for a top and a bottom. So yeah, there’s a really good margin but there’s a dozen companies that just do that, so it’s not really original stuff. I was more into the design aspect,” she said.

Valk was already designing clubwear for herself and her friends in Colorado, so the transition seemed to make sense. She said she was always looking for fun, shiny fabric that also had a lot of stretch, a problem she continues to face in the swimwear market.

“Very cheap fabrics are only going to stretch so much one way. The higher the content of spandex, the more expensive it is. So not a whole lot of fabrics are made with a lot of spandex content,” Valk said.

Valk said she first came up with the name Sharrari in 2005 but didn’t start the line until 2008. She said it took her awhile to figure out where to go and how to produce her products. After going to Texas and New York City and realizing there wasn’t a market for swimwear there, she moved to Los Angeles in 2010.

“Within a couple weeks I had found my team and everything was really smooth, it was the easiest transition and it just fit. It fit like puzzles just matching together; it was just absolutely perfect,” she said.

She said it’s easy for smaller designers to produce in Los Angeles because manufacturing can be done in the city and doesn’t have to be outsourced to China.

“I feel like L.A. is actually the only one area in the Unites States that can actually produce,” she said.

For the past year, Valk has been developing her swimwear line. Her bikinis are European inspired; small and sexy and define the female body. She said she would go to designer stores in the area and spend 15 minutes showing them her designs and then would send a shipment to them herself. She said sales were good this past year and all of her customers were based in Los Angeles.

Most of her swimwear sales in the future will most likely be in coastal areas, Valk said.

“There’s so many types of lines that I’d love to design, but I think the key point when you’re first starting out is just pick one thing and become super-specialized in that one thing,” she said.

This year she is starting a new line of yoga clothes.

Valk, who is a yoga instructor, said there aren’t a lot of options when it comes to yoga clothes.

“Whenever I wear my samples in the classroom, I get tons of people stopping me, saying hey wow, where did you get those? That’s so cute, I want to order one,” she said.

She said she plans to continue expanding her swimwear to have “a more a futuristic edge to it,” and see where her yoga line takes her.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen but I think it will definitely be big,” Valk said.

Chinese company sponsors Grauman’s Chinese Theater

By Pei Li

Grauman's Chinese Theater is now official sponsored as TCL Chinese Theater. (Lindsay Ivins)

Grauman’s Chinese Theater is now named TCL Chinese Theater. (Lindsay Ivins)

The world-famous Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood has finally justified its name by adding a Chinese element.

TCL, a Chinese electronics and technology company, purchased the naming rights of the theater for 10 years starting in January 2013, marking it “TCL Chinese Theater.”

But how effective the deal will be in bringing recognition to TCL is yet to be seen.

Shaik Rahul, who works at a tour agency booth near the theater, said he first thought the naming symbolized the change of ownership of the theater. Asked several times by people from the mall what TCL is when the theater was putting the new name on, all he could answer is that it is a Chinese company that manufactures electronics like television.

Tourists may not know the new name, but many are familiar with the long-standing L.A. icon. The Chinese Theater first opened in 1927 and has been home to many premieres, including the 1977 launch of George Lucas’ Star Wars, as well as birthday parties, corporate junkets and three Academy Awards ceremonies.

Featuring its Chinese temple-like architecture, with a dragon entrance and two stone lions guarding the gate, TCL Chinese Theater attracts 4 million tourists every year. Forty-three movies launched their premiers in this theater in 2012, while nine have launched so far in 2013.

“The Chinese Theater is always the trailblazer to innovate and upgrade with the latest technology. We were the first in the world to use cinemiracle in the 1950s, the first to apply 3D in the new century and so on,” said Levi Tinker, a historian of the theater, “We believe the Chinese Theater is the perfect match for TCL, a technology company that seeks to compete in the world market.”

After the naming of the theater, TCL is helping the theater upgrade with a Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) screen, a new extra-wide screen, stadium seating, superior sound and projection systems, and a new box-office marquee on Hollywood Boulevard.

“The milestone relationship between TCL and the Chinese Theatre will allow us to do many of the upgrades and the preservation projects we earmarked,” said Donald Kushner, who currently owns the theater with another partner.

TCL also saw benefits in the naming deal.

“As a fast-emerging and innovative global electronic brand, the landmark cooperation between TCL and Chinese Theater will not only extend the glamor of the theater in the capital of entertainment, but also bring in the latest technology of TCL, and promote the TCL brand on a global stage,” said Dongsheng Li, president of TCL.

Though TCL has no previous investment in the entertainment industry, the Chinese company is experienced in exerting marketing strategies for Hollywood movies. For example, it imbedded advertising in the Avengers, Cloud Atlas, Transformer 3, Batman 3 and others.

In an international electronics exhibition in Las Vegas after signing the naming deal, Li announced that TCL product would appear in the upcoming Iron Man, which stars Robert Downey Jr., as the Iron Man.

Despite TCL’s high-profile publicity in China about the naming deal, it is uncertain whether the deal will help TCL to achieve its goal in Hollywood.

Even some Chinese could not recognize the change of the name.

Jianxin Ma, who was originally from China and currently lives in Canada, said he did not realize the prefix of TCL before the Chinese Theater until the reporter told him.

“It is very normal in the U.S. to see a change of names. I don’t think people here really care what TCL is. To me, it is like dumping the coins into the river without even hearing the flopping of the water,” said Ma.

Kai Wang, a local resident of Los Angeles who was showing his friends from China around the theater, said he had not heard of the name change.

“This kind of advertising is still very primitive and a lack of creativity,” said Wang, “I would suggest a smarter way to promote the brand instead of simply naming the theater with a bundle of money.” He compared the naming of the theater against the creative TV commercials by companies like Samsung.

Jie Chen, vice president of the All-American Chinese Youth Federation, said Chinese companies that seek to carry out business overseas need to be practical, rather than spending extravagantly on what he called publicity stunts.

“Should there be any provision relating to public welfare, like providing free use of the theater for local philanthropic groups or the Chinese community, it might achieve an unexpected effect,” said Chen.

Some also point out that the logo of TCL may be too small to be seen.

“The Chinese Theater is a mainly a tourist spot with limited space,” said Xiao Hu, vice chairman of the Southern California Chinese Public Diplomacy Promotion Association.

“Without a conspicuous logo, the tourists might not have the time, and would not pay special attention to the naming company of the theater,” he added.

Tonight Show production a well-oiled machine

By Chad Garland

Whatever you do, don’t take photos inside Studio 11 on NBC Universal’s Burbank Lot. A small army of NBC pages and contracted security guards keep a watchful eye for anyone snapping a shot on their camera, phone or tablet.

Aided in their lookout by an unseen surveillance team, these hawk-like stewards won’t just frown on surreptitious snapshots, they’ll give shutterbugs a stern talking-to, and they don’t like repeating themselves.

This obsession with control of the hundreds of tourists who fill the audience daily is all part of a systematic routine that keeps The Tonight Show with Jay Leno running smoothly day after day.

The show is taped live and blasted up to a satellite passing overhead at just the right time (about 4 p.m. to 5 p.m.) and sent to the East Coast for broadcast later that evening.

“We tape for an hour, we take a one-minute break for one-minute commercials, a 30-second break for 30-second commercials,” Leno told the audience. “All the flubs and mistakes stay in.”

Aside from a few of Jay’s lines — called “pick-ups” — that are rerecorded later and dubbed in to cover bad sound in the original recording, the show airs with little post-production editing.

This means that the show needs to come off without a hitch, and that means tight audience control.

When I arrived with a group of students from the Cronkite School to watch a taping on March 14, we were all greeted by an energetic page who led us to a security checkpoint where we passed through a metal detector and bag check that would make the TSA proud.

After giving my bag a thorough screening in which she checked every pouch and asked me to identify certain contents, the security guard warned me to put my camera in the camera bag before entering the studio.

Benjamin Kuerschner came through the West Coast Page program pipeline after graduating film school at New York University. The page programs — there’s one on each coast — are year-long and serve as NBC Universal’s “primary pipeline to entry level positions,” according to the company’s website. Of approximately 9,000 applicants to the West Coast program, only 50 made it into the 2012 program, according to one Tonight Show page.

Kuershner landed a position as the show’s audience coordinator after completing the program in 2011. He herds audience members into sections of the studio’s parking lot according to their status — walk-ins, groups, guests of employees who work on the show and a few other categories.

A cadre of pages work with Kuerschner to prepare the audience for the show, lining them up, issuing tickets, instructing them to throw out food and drinks before entering, warning them not to take photos and, of course, counting them.

It’s a thankless job, but an important one for a show that fills 386 seats five days a week, but usually overbooks its seats. Everyone wants in, but not everyone gets in. Kuerschner’s team decides who makes it and who doesn’t.

At the appointed time, the pages lead groups into the audience seating area, escorting each to various sections in what must be a systematic fashion, although the method seems random to a casual observer.

Guests of the show’s employees apparently get priority for floor seats, where they have the opportunity to high-five Leno at the top of the show, just before his monologue.

One security guard who had recently started working at the show got tickets for two of his buddies from his weekend job at the Anheuser-Busch brewery in nearby Van Nuys. He asked Kuerschner to get them on the floor, and sure enough they were seated just off stage right.

It’s at this point, during the seating, that the rigorous no-photo policy is enforced. A colleague of mine was cautioned about taking a cell phone photo. A guard wearing an earpiece checked the last photo on another colleague’s iPad to ensure he hadn’t snapped a shot of the empty set.

“They told you about your camera, right?” the same guard asked me before returning to his post in front of the dimly lit set.

I nodded and said they had, surprised that he even knew about the camera in a messenger bag shrouded in shadows under my seat. I soon realized that a larger security apparatus was at work and communicating with the guards via radio.

With the audience seated, a denim-clad Jay Leno walked out on stage to give some pre-show guidance, tell a few jokes, shake some hands and pose for a few photos with guests. He reminded the audience that the “most important thing” was their applause and laughter during his monologue. Not for himself, mind you, but for his guests—James Franco and Jay Mohr that night.

“If they just hear silence during the monologue, they’ll start to think there’s something wrong with them, personally,” Leno quipped.

As with much of the process, there seemed to be an underlying system to selecting the guests for photos, but the method was still unclear, leaving it to seem somehow random again. There is a consistent and constant effort to maintain an illusion of spontaneity to mask the rigid structure and mechanics of the production.

Leno’s casual pre-show rapport-building was as much a part of the production as the taped elements that would begin 15 minutes later. As Leno retreated to his dressing room, comedian Don Reed appeared to warm the audience with a mix of instruction — “People seated on the floor and on the floor only come up, give Jay five, then quickly sit back down” — and comedy, such as his slow-motion impression of a man thinking he’s cool, getting drunk on tequila, and getting kicked in the jewels.

Once Reed had worked the audience into a fervor of clapping, whooping and whooping and clapping, it was as if audience members’ identities drained away and we fell under the control of the show’s producers. We applauded when applause signs flashed, stood and clapped to the music when the band played, sat in rapt attention when Leno interviewed his guests and laughed on cue.

When the show was over, the promos taped and pick-ups dubbed, we were released from our spell and returned to the Burbank parking lot outside. We weren’t victims of a production cycle, we weren’t spectators, either. We were participants, part of a promotion machine greased to drive viewers from across the country to movie theaters to watch a Disney movie, a Warner Brothers picture, a DreamWorks animated film.

For that hour of taping in Studio 11, we weren’t tourists anymore, and so we didn’t get a souvenir photo. But, on the way out, returned to our natural state, we could snap a shot with a laminated, life-size Jay Leno standee or purchase an NBC peacock pillow for $19.99.

EA Games looks to adjust as mobile devices change industry

By Deanna Benjamin

The number of smartphones and tablets is increasing, giving video gamers the ability to play games wherever and whenever they want. This also means console devices will no longer be required.

Many video gamers grew up with gaming devices in the ‘80s and ‘90s, but times have changed as games have moved to a three-dimensional mobile platform.

In a recent New York Times article about the resignation of the top executive of Electronic Arts, it was noted that falling retail sales are tied to the decline in use of game console devices. EA’s total revenue declined more than 15% in the quarter ending December 2012 compared with income in the same quarter of 2011.

Alexis McDowel, public relations director at Electronic Arts, describes the rise of digital as a shift in the industry.

EA came out with “Real Racing 3” for mobile devices and tablets at the end of February. The first two versions were a “one-time download” where a buyer would pay $5 to $10 to download the whole game. Real Racing 3 is free to download.

With free games, money is made through micro-transactions. Players can pay to speed up the game or to buy new cars. The model is called “freemium,” meaning a basic game is free, and consumers pay for extras or premium add-ons.

McDowel said EA Mobile sees freemium games a positive since there’s no barrier of entry, which allows many more people to play a game. Within the first week of the launch, there were more downloads of Real Racing 3 than Real Racing 1 and Real Racing 2 combined.

“This presents a nice opportunity for us and our consumers because they don’t have to pay a cent to download it,” McDowel said. “The game is bigger, deeper and richer than the first two iterations. With 900 events, 46 cars to play and 22-car grid — it’s a massive game and it is for free.”

Promoting a mobile game often takes months before a launch. In McDowel’s case, EA developed a seven-month media relations campaign period to promote the game. This included a launch trailer on social media websites to get consumers excited and a media day in Los Angeles with celebrity Donald Faison, McDowel said.

Manufacturers of mobile devices also have had an impact on the increase in mobile gaming sales, as new devices keep improving to give gamers a more in-depth experience when playing the game.

EA mobile games were highlighted in two Apple Press conferences. Real Racing 3 was the only game presented on stage during the iPhone 5 release in September 2012.

The world’s largest video game retailer, GameStop, also has seen a drastic increase in game-playing on mobile devices. Mario Adams, district manager of GameStop Los Angeles, says his business is benefiting from the shift from console to handheld.

“What we’ve been seeing over the last several years is a huge increase of focus in customers that we’ve never seen before because they (game creators) are supporting the mobile and tablet business,” he says.

Adams says better devices use advanced tablet technology with high definition graphics, quality audio and correlative screens that respond to instant touches. These make games look better and keep gamers engaged.

EA games range from free to $9.99. McDowel said she believes this type of gaming will continue to grow in the next 10 years.

“Mobile gaming presents an incredibly exciting opportunity for our company and it is expanding every quarter. We see companies like Apple and Google continue to grow and put out new devices. We see tremendous opportunities and we don’t see it slowing down any time soon.”

Facts about gaming from GameStop

1. Consumers spent $24.75 billion on video games, hardware and accessories in 2011.
2. Purchases of digital content accounted for 31 percent of game sales in 2011, generating $7.3 billion in revenue.
3. The average U.S. household owns at least one dedicated game console, PC or smartphone.
4. The average game player is 30 years old and has been playing games for 12 years.
5. Thirty-three percent of gamers play games on their smartphones, and 25 percent play games on their handheld device.

Possibility of NFL team creates buzz around L.A.

One Sunday in Los Angeles, an arena hosted two professional basketball games. It then held a professional hockey game the next day and welcomed a Grammy-winning musician the following day.

With so much activity in a matter of three days, some may wonder what else this city could possibly need.

But at least one Los Angeles real estate developer believes there’s still something missing: a National Football League stadium and franchise.

Majestic Realty Co., headquartered in City of Industry just outside of Los Angeles, is spearheading an initiative to fill that void. It has developed a website to promote the stadium, but has yet to gain much traction.

John Semcken is the vice president of Majestic Realty and is the man who has recently put a face to his company’s plan. He, however, did not return calls to further comment on the project.

Brock Buccola, who works about two blocks away from the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles, said he would be on board for another team in the area.

“I would be really interested and excited to have another team here,” said Buccola, who is the director of finance for a local law firm.

Buccola grew up watching the Los Angeles Rams play at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, and was devastated when the team packed its bags to move to St. Louis in 1994.

“For me, it was a serious blow,” he said. “It took away a part of my childhood.”

Buccola said that his father used to have season tickets to the Rams games and would often spend his Sundays at the stadium. He said he would like to be able to return the favor to his children, but simply can’t because there’s not a team nearby.

“We are the second biggest market and we haven’t had a team since 1994,” he said. “You’re watching the NFL from the sidelines now because there’s no real hometown team to root for.”

Buccola added that having a team in Los Angeles would benefit the area for several additional reasons, as well.

“It would be successful in the downtown area,” he said, which has seen many improvements. “I think it could support another team. With the infrastructure, I think it’s pretty well established and it would be a boom to the local economy here.”

Majestic Realty put up a website that supports Buccola’s theory that the stadium would boost the local economy. The website,, publishes economic development statistics about the potential stadium and other information.

The plan is for the stadium to be completely funded by private organizations, at no expense to taxpayers, and would cost $800 million to build.

Regardless of the cost, Majestic Realty is still trying to sell the idea that the stadium will be an all-around benefit for the local economy surrounding the city.

The website claims that more than 18,000 new jobs would be created, the local government would receive about $21.2 million in new tax revenue and there would be a $762 million economic impact for the whole region if the stadium is built.

The Industry city manager’s office also declined to comment about what the project could do for the local economy.

AEG, a separate company that also developed a plan to build a new stadium in Los Angeles, announced recently that its chief executive, Tim Leiweke, is leaving the company.