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R.I.P. Nikki Finke: An Appreciation Of A Fierce Game-Changer

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As Hurricane Ian roared through Florida last week, I was thinking of Nikki Finke, who had moved to the state four years ago but now was living under hospice care in Boca Raton, the result of a long and involved illness that finally took her life in the early hours of Sunday at the age of 68.

Finke founded Deadline in 2006 and eventually watched it build powerful, gale-force winds as it took on Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, 100-year-old institutions, and leveled the playing field among the entertainment trades changing forever the way Hollywood would be covered in the new digital age. Yes, Hurricane Nikki did it, forcing Variety and THR online to Deadline turf and reducing their daily print editions to weekly magazines. Now ironically they are all run by Penske Media, which first bought Deadline in June 2009. Could we ever have imagined such a scenario just a little over a decade ago? It is almost like she was Joe Hardy in Damn Yankees, making a deal with the devil for one memorable and improbable winning baseball season.

I guess some people actually thought she was the devil, but it is remarkable to think she was able to do this in such a comparatively short amount of time, fearlessly taking on the town, its “moguls” as she liked to call them, and telling the truth of a business that liked to carefully control its own narrative in a PR game she was having none of. As you have read in the many obits about her today she was feared, no doubt about that, and not someone who could be manipulated. She certainly suffered no fools, but because of a previous career as a hardened journalist working for AP and others she took the rules of that road and applied it to covering a business that wasn’t quite used to being under the microscope 24/7, but never resorting to rumors or gossip. That was her mantra, and I love the fact she once said she was willing to sue the next person who called her a “gossip columnist.” Not even close. She created the template for today’s entertainment journalism, one that now has a lot of imitators starting their own blogs and newsletters, but none of them quite igniting fires like Nikki could.

She started Deadline Hollywood Daily, its original name, as a quicker way to break news than in her then weekly newspaper column, buying the URL DeadlineHollywoodDaily.com for $14, but not intending to be a disruptor or internet journalist. It just kinda worked out that way.

As she wrote in our 10th anniversary Deadline Disruptors magazine in 2016 (her final piece for Deadline): “Back then, the trades were slow to embrace the idea that trees no longer had to die for a media outlet to be influential. ‘The trades were polite and objective, but you realized it was far more interesting to tell stories through your own perspective,’ (Deadline co-editor in chief) Mike Fleming reminds me. ‘I always used to tell people you were like a duck that walked around on land and then somebody knocked you into the water and suddenly it was like, damn, look at how that duck swims!’ ”

I love that line. Finke was indeed a duck that took to the water of the internet in a way we hadn’t seen up to that point, at least in Hollywood. But in some ways she was also a throwback to the Walter Winchell era with all those pet phrases, UPDATE, EXCLUSIVE, R.I.P. for obits, and of course TOLDJA! It was all so exclusively Nikki. It even led to Oscar winner Bill Condon among others creating an unauthorized HBO pilot, Tilda, starring Diane Keaton as a thinly veiled version of Finke. It didn’t sell though because having seen it (I still have a copy Nikki gave me) it was impossible to capture her in a way that would be as compelling as just reading the real thing.

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She also had an air of mystery about her which is always good for a Hollywood career, but she consistently denied she was a recluse, instead chalking it up to her insane work ethic. Still the fact is I worked directly with her for four years before she left and only once did I ever meet her in person, and that was in her final year at Deadline. She invited me and my wife Madelyn to her apartment on Doheny Drive for dinner (delivered by The Ivy). To my mind this was akin to meeting Garbo. I cannot describe how nervous I was about the prospect, but after some very awkward moments, what I really discovered was she was as big a fan of classic movies as I was. Nobody loved Bette Davis or Barbara Stanwyck, even Garbo more. Who knew?

That would be the only time I ever saw Nikki Finke, but we have kept in touch over the years since, and for Madelyn much more often than that, friends to the end. Yes it wasn’t always smooth, and yes she could sometimes be ulcer-inducing, but what an opportunity she gave me, and that Jay Penske continues to give me, up to this moment. We are very sad today, but it should be comforting to know that she faced death the exact same way she lived her life — on her terms and that of no one else.

Last week as that hurricane was hitting Florida I dropped her an email to see if she was okay, but also knowing she was nearing the end. I didn’t hear back but I am hoping someone might have read it to her. I wanted to thank her for always keeping a promise she once made to me when finally — after an August of endless back and forth — I signed on to leave the LA Times for the then not-so-sure-thing of Deadline as its awards columnist. She promised me I would not have to be her, I could still be me and independent, and more importantly she swore that my stuff would actually be read if I came to Deadline.

Here is an example of the power of what Nikki Finke had wrought: My first assignment was covering the 2010 Telluride Film Festival and my first article was about Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan, which had just premiered there. Right after it posted I had to run to another screening, but in hitting the street I also ran smack into Aronofsky who thanked me. I said, “For what?” And he said “That article on Black Swan in Deadline.” I couldn’t believe it. Twenty minutes could not have passed since its posting. Nikki was right. People actually read Deadline, and almost urgently as I discovered. At the LA Times I often felt like I was in the witness-relocation program. I never got that kind of instant reaction, and it has been that way at Deadline even now into my 13th year.

Although Deadline has grown in size of staff since its earlier days, it might say something about Nikki Finke that the core group she brought in, with the help of Penske, is still the core group today all these years later. That in itself is a tribute to its founder and the game-changing idea she had that moved mountains.

R.I.P. Nikki Finke.

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Netflix & Paramount+ To Profile ‘Strip Search Caller’ ; TVOKids Spotlights Down Syndrome With Toon Series; ‘One Piece Film Red’ London Takeover — Global Briefs

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Netflix & Paramount+ UK To Profile ‘Strip Search Caller’

Netflix and Paramount+ have struck a first of its kind-of-deal over a true crime documentary telling the story of the strip search caller in the U.S. Paramount+ has taken UK rights to Pervert: The Hunt for the Strip Search Caller and Netflix has rest of world on the doc, which it will be calling Don’t Pick Up the Phone. The deal is believed to be the first time two streamers have worked in such a way in the UK and rest of world. The doc tells the shocking story of a hoax caller who targeted fast food restaurants across the U.S. – posing as a police officer investigating a theft, the caller instructed managers to strip-search the young female employees he said were suspects. For many victims, what began as a humiliating strip search escalated into sexual abuse.

Canada’s TVOKids Spotlights Down Syndrome In Animated Series ‘Griffin And Turner’

EXCLUSIVE: Ontario, Canada’s TVOkids and Big Jump Entertainment are working on 2D-animated series Griffin and Turner. Based on real Canadian brothers who a significant online following, the show follows the supportive pair as they, their friends and family undertake personal challenges but focus on the journey rather than winning. Turner has Down syndrome, and TVOKids executive producer Kirsten Hurd noted the series has been developed in consultation with the Down syndrome community. Producer Big Jump is behind shows such as Shutterbug and Big Words, Small Stories.

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London Gets ‘One Piece Film Red’ Takeover After Record Haul

To celebrate the record-breaking haul of One Piece Film Red in the UK, the Straw Hat Pirates are set for a takeover of iconic London locations on November 26. Via local distributor Anime Limited and Toei Animation, the cast and memorable scenes from the series will be projected onto the County Hall of London, opposite the London Eye as well as other key locations. One Piece Film: Red has grossed over £800,000 in the UK and Ireland since it released earlier this month, making it the biggest of the long-running franchise. A phenomenon in Japan, One Piece Film Red has grossed $162M to date worldwide 



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‘All Quiet On The Western Front’, ‘Belfast’ Top 2022 EFA Arts & Crafts Awards

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Edward Berger’s All Quiet On The Western Front and Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast top the European Film Academy’s Excellence Awards honoring achievement in the arts and crafts categories, the winners of which were announced on Wednesday.

Belfast won best European Production Design for Jim Clay, whose credits include Children Of Men, for which he won a Bafta in 2006, and Murder On The Orient Express.

The drama, set against the backdrop of the beginnings of “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland in 1969, also won best European Costume Design for Charlotte Walter (Blithe Spirit, Misbehaviour)

Netflix-backed German WWI drama All Quiet On The Western Front won best European Make-up & Hair for Heike Merker, and Best European Special Effects for Frank Petzold, Viktor Müller and Markus Frank.

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 In other categories, best European Cinematography was won by Kate McCullough for her work on Colm Bairéad’s Irish-language drama The Quiet Girl.

Best European Editing went to Özcan Vardar and Eytan İpeker for Turkish director Emin Alper’s drama Burning Days.

Polish composer Paweł Mykietyn won best European Original Score went for Jerzy Skolimowski’s EO.

Best European Sound went to Simone Paolo Olivero, Paolo Benvenuti, Benni Atria, Marco Saitta, Ansgar Frerich & Florian Holzner for Michelangelo Frammartino’s cave exploration drama The Hole.

The winners, which are decided by a special expert jury, will receive their awards at the European Film Awards ceremony on 10 December in Reykjavík.

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Jennifer Lopez’s Social Media Mysteriously Goes Dark

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EXCLUSIVE: The actress, producer and top-selling performing artist’s social media channels including Instagram, Facebook, Tik Tok and Twitter have suddenly gone dark in their featured/cover images.

Reps for Jennifer Lopez were unavailable for comment, but we hear from others that The Hustlers and Marry Me actress is on the verge of announcing a new project.

Here’s a look at her Instagram tonight:

While Lopez’s Instagram had erased all posts, a trail of her previous postings remained on Facebook, Tik Tok and Twitter. Across all four social media portals, Lopez counts close to 347M followers, the majority of that coming from her Instagram.

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Lopez’s Nuyorican Productions in June 2021 signed a multi-year first-look deal with Netflix spanning feature films, TV series and unscripted content, with an emphasis on projects that support diverse female actors, writers and filmmakers. Lopez co-runs Nuyorican Productions with her producing partner Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas.

Lopez scored her best opening for a live-action movie at the domestic box office with STX’s 2019 stripper caper Hustlers which debuted to $33.1 million, and grossed $105M stateside, $157.6M worldwide.  As a recording artist, Lopez has sold over 70 million albums, with J.Lo became her bestselling album with 3.8M copies sold in the U.S. and 12M global. Her Netflix thriller The Mother from director Niki Caro is set to debut in May. Her romantic comedy Shotgun Wedding with Josh Duhamel will hit Prime Video on Jan. 27.

On Facebook, one of her followers, Steffany Merino wrote, “What’s happened? Hope you and your wonderful family are ok. I’ll pray for your health and safety.”

Again, we hear something special is in the works in the next few days.



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