Morgan Freeman Releases New Movie on Web
By JAKE COYLE
The Associated Press
NEW YORK -- Just two weeks after "10 Items or Less" opens in theaters Friday, it'll be available for digital download from Clickstar, a company that Morgan Freeman's production company and Intel have founded to bring small movies to those who live far from boutique cinemas.
What's Freeman doing rethinking Hollywood's business models?
"I'm just a firm believer that things continue to grow, get better," the 69-year-old actor says in his deep, distinctive voice.
Freeman seems more full of life _ both on-screen and off _ than ever.
At his home in Clarksdale, Miss., where he lives with his wife of 12 years, he's an avid pilot, sailor and owns a blues club and a restaurant.
He has more than a half-dozen films either finished or in preproduction. Freeman's esteemed career _ which has spanned "Driving Miss Daisy, "Glory," "The Shawshank Redemption," "Se7en" and last year's "March of the Penguins" _ shows no signs of slowing down.
Moviegoers are accustomed to seeing Freeman's weary eyes exude gravitas and dignity in films _ a kind of pigeonholing Freeman has long yearned to break free of. In "10 Items or Less," he's a clearly lighter presence.
The film, directed by Brad Silberling, is a short, independent movie about independent movies. Freeman's character is an actor who has been out of the movie biz for four years who's considering signing onto "a little independent thing."
He researches the prospective part by observing a grocery store checkout girl (Paz Vega). The two quickly forge a friendship and spend a pivotal day together.
While "10 Items or Less" _ a modest film of 82 minutes, shot in 15 days _ is best viewed on the big screen (like all movies), its smallness makes a computer screen a reasonable viewing station. Perhaps more importantly, it's not a film that will play at most multiplexes or in rural areas.
It's a familiar problem to Freeman.
"Where I live, in my town, there's no movie house," he says. "There are many, many, many, many people who don't have access."
Freeman and his production partner, Lori McCreary, founded Revelations Entertainment in 1996 _ three years after Freeman's lone directing effort, "Bopha!"
"I want to have control over making films. I really do," says Freeman.
After Napster and online downloading changed the music industry, Freeman and McCreary began considering how Hollywood could head off similar problems _ discussions that Intel eventually joined.
"And we came up with the idea of distributing movies via the Internet on a stable platform, on something that you can control," Freeman says.
The idea isn't new; Movielink.com, for one, offers movies digitally for purchase and rental (with a viewing period of 24 hours). What makes Clickstar unique is that it's offering first-run movies.
"10 Items or Less" will have a two-week window of a purely theatrical release, then will be available from ClickstarInc.com on Dec. 15. Freeman says its next first-run digital release will be "Lonely Hearts" (starring John Travolta and James Gandolfini) in the spring.
Other filmmakers have begun to re-examine how they release their films. Last year, Steven Soderbergh released the indie "Bubble" across three platforms over just five days: in theaters, on the high-definition cable channel HDNet and on DVD.
Freeman, however, thinks the risk of piracy with DVDs is too great (especially in foreign countries) and that coded downloads present a safer avenue for distribution. It also helps level the playing field between independent productions and the studios.
"You can come up with money sometimes to make a film, but you can't distribute it because it costs a lot to get prints and advertising," Freeman says.
The obvious fear is that digital downloads made available so close to the theatrical release could cannibalize the box office.
Silberling, whose credits include wide-release films such as "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events" and "Moonlight Mile," thinks the Internet simply presents another audience to penetrate.
"I don't think broadband is going to shift viewing patterns," the director says. "I think hopefully people who otherwise wouldn't have seen it might now. People who like to go to that theater and get popcorn will go."
Both Freeman and Silberling think Hollywood doomsayers will be proven wrong on Internet distribution in the same way that fears of TV, the VHS and DVDs all (to a certain extent) turned out to be exaggerated. They believe digital downloads present the future of home entertainment and expect it to spread prominently within a few years.
But concerns about the unknown don't bother Freeman much. He recently took up golf, and to hear him speak about it, he might just as well be discussing Clickstar.
"I'm enjoying the attempt," he says with a laugh. "I'm trying to master a new discipline, which I guess is something we should all do, anyway."
On the Net:
The following article appeared in the June 2006 issue of Black Enterprise Magazine
The following article appeared in the March 2006 issue of InStyle Magazine
Slevin is Freeman's Lucky Number
Source: Heather Newgen
Oscar winner Morgan Freeman strikes gold again with his latest film Lucky Number Slevin. He plays The Boss in director Paul McGuigan's new crime drama and co-stars along other impressive talent such as Sir Ben Kingsley, Josh Hartnett, Bruce Willis and Lucy Liu.
"Slevin" has been compared to The Usual Suspects because of the twists and turns that leave you guessing until everything finally unfurls and is explained.
"Someone this morning said that people are equating it with 'Pulp Fiction.' So, yes, I agree in that it's sort of a thinking piece. You walk away from 'The Usual Suspects' and it was a thinking piece. They go back and they show you how this all unfolded right there in the office and 'The Usual Suspects' was this blend of all of these different themes happening and you see it in jump cuts, but it's explanatory. So I think that this was like that," Freeman told ComingSoon.net.
The film is set in New York and explores an underworld of crime and vengeance. Mistaken identity lands Slevin (Hartnett) right in the middle of an ongoing war between the city's most rivaled crimes bosses, The Rabbi (Kingsley) and The Boss. To make matters worse he's under constant surveillance by the notorious assassin Goodkat (Bruce Willis) and an importunate detective, played by Stanley Tucci.
As you can imagine, Freeman doesn't exactly play the good guy and he likes it that way, well sometimes.
"I like playing the bad guy, but I like playing... Just give me something interesting to play and I'm very happy."
Although Freeman and Kingsley were at odds in the movie, Freeman admitted one of his motives for taking the part was to work with Sir Ben.
"It was one of the reasons to take a role like this – you get to work that close to Ben Kingsley. It's like, 'Yeah. I'll do it. I don't care what it is.'"
As far as working with the other striking actors in the film, Freeman said, "Playing is no challenge. Every time that you get a role you get to go play with other people in the sandbox and so there is no challenge, real challenge. The challenge, the major challenge is getting the work, finding the sandbox."
In addition to the several upcoming projects Freeman has in the works, there is still more he wants to do.
"There's a western that I want to do. There's a lot of producing that I want to do, projects that I have stacked up that are in my office that I'd like to get done. And I'm starting slowly to think about the segue because sooner or later, maybe sooner than later, the phone is going to stop ringing and people are going to start saying, 'Get me a Morgan Freeman type.'"
Somehow we doubt that, but he's convinced anyone could fill his shoes.
"When I was coming along, when I was struggling up to get here it would just piss me off to think that people thought that only one actor could fill a role. You're doing such a disservice to [the] whole other stack of good people standing there saying, 'We can do it.' There are tons of people who can step right in there just like they own it, and they did own it. All of the time."
You can see Freeman own Hartnett in Lucky Number Slevin on April 7th.
Morgan Freeman, Down Home
By Andrea Sachs
Washington Post Staff Writer
When Morgan Freeman is away from Clarksdale, Miss., too long, the Delta blues call him back home.
"The big question was, 'My Lord, you can live anywhere in the world you want, why did you choose Mississippi?' " said the 68-year-old actor, who agreed to play tour guide during a recent visit. "My glib answer was, because I can live anywhere. But the true answer is that of any place I've ever been, this feels most like home. When I come here, when I hit Mississippi, everything is right."
Mississippi, and Clarksdale specifically, seem like the last place you'd find an Oscar-winning celebrity setting down roots. The agrarian, slightly downtrodden town of 20,000 has no red carpet, no Hilton sisters, no Hollywood cliques or cachet. But what it lacks in glam, it more than compensates for with smoldering blues music and Southern hospitality.
"He's been a tremendous ambassador not only for the town but for the whole state," said Guy Malvezzi, who runs Delta Recording Service, a recording studio founded by his nephew, Jimbo Mathus of Squirrel Nut Zippers fame.
Freeman, who was born in Memphis and lives on a 120-acre ranch 39 miles southeast of Clarksdale, is proud of his adopted town. During a trip home in late September, he easily slipped into the role of tour guide, starting out at the Ground Zero Blues Club, a music venue he owns with his friend Bill Luckett and a third partner.
"One reason to be back here is because I made a lot of money and I am going to spend it somewhere," said Freeman, dressed in casual-Friday clothes with a sparkling stud in his ear. "This is the best place to spend it."
Freeman and Luckett opened the club in May 2001, transforming a 1900s cotton warehouse into a gritty concert venue where the music is earsplitting and the decor is frat house-meets-dance hall. Sagging, beaten-up couches sit out front, with views of a mountainous dirt pile and a forlorn street where traffic (people or cars) is rare. You can usually find a local hustler named Puttin' hanging around, bantering with other porch birds and fooling even Freeman with his sleight-of-hand card and dice tricks. The walls are graffitied inside and out with scribblings that range from idolatrous ("Erin saw Morgan Freeman 7-25-03 Awesome") to slightly alarming ("Mothers, watch your daughters").
But the graffiti that gets to the heart of the place is written on a stall in the ladies' room: "Delta blues are the real deal."
Musicologists consider Clarksdale the epicenter of blues, and it has the pedigree to support this claim. Musical legends who have lived or passed through the town include Sam Cooke, who was born here, and Ike Turner, whose green clapboard house still sits on Washington Street. Muddy Waters was raised on the Stovall Plantation outside of town, and you can poke around his sharecropper cabin in the Delta Blues Museum or pay homage at a stone marker littered with picks. In 1937, Bessie Smith, who was on her way to perform in Clarksdale, died from car-accident-related injuries at the G.T. Thomas Hospital, which is now the Riverside Hotel. Die-hard blues fans who don't mind a bit of seediness can sleep where Turner and Sonny Boy Williamson once overnighted.
Most famously, at the crossroads of highways 61 and 49, the early-20th-century bluesman Robert Johnson allegedly sold his soul to the Devil for the gift of a guitar. (A guitar-shaped monument marks the spot, though the "original" location is at the intersection of East Tallahatchie Street and Martin Luther King Drive.) And in the past year, Elvis Costello has recorded at Malvezzi's studio and Robert Plant has swung through town, in search of that ineffable blues feeling that helped shape Led Zeppelin's music.
Clarksdale, though, is no Beale Street-in-progress. Its abandoned storefronts are still waiting for retailers to take over, and its Blues Alley could fit inside one square of the legendary Memphis strip, about 75 miles north. (The town was not affected by the recent hurricanes.)
But the Delta town clings protectively to its ancestry. Muddy Waters might not be around anymore to play on neighborhood porches, but Mr. Tater, a bluesman with buck teeth and lion-paw hands, is happy to perform on the street corner -- to no one in particular.
"We want to hold onto the basic feel and sensibility of the place. We don't want it too high-toned, because the minute you get too big, you become like Beale Street, New Orleans, or any other place that becomes touristy, very surface and commercial," said Freeman. "Right now, Clarksdale is very real."
Currently, the blues town registers about six juke joints, but that number can change daily. Generally speaking, they're in decrepit buildings that are one cockroach away from condemnation: leaky roof, burned-out lights, windows so dirty they block the sunlight. But the music is raw, real, euphoric. That is, when there is music. True to the places' informality, show dates and times are haphazard. For blues aficionados, many of them Europeans who follow the Delta Blues Trail from Memphis to Vicksburg, Miss., this can be annoying.
"We were always hearing on the street, 'Where can we hear some live blues music?' No place in town was offering regularly scheduled, consistently played blues music," said Luckett, 67, who has lived in Mississippi since infancy. "It was a hit-or-miss thing. . . . So we decided to change that."
Enter the Ground Zero Blues Club. Now Clarksdale can hold its blues note just a little longer.
On this Friday night in Clarksdale, you could hear Red's before you actually entered Red's. The dimly lit juke joint was blaring Big Jack Johnson from an elephantine stereo system. The floor shook slightly from the thudding track, but no one danced or even twitched. They were in a music stupor. Good blues can do that to you.
Around the corner, though, the crowd at the Ground Zero Blues Club had no control over their hips, heads and feet. A daughter of Clarksdale was getting married the next day, and her guests were in party mode. As local bluesman Super Chikan pranced around on the stage, playing his guitar as if possessed by Johnson's Devil, the patch of floor before him was a constant ebb and flow of dancers. They bobbed and whirled, then dashed to the bar for beer or a breather on the porch, then went back for more. The night finally ended closer to dawn than midnight.
"The allure of the kind of blues that this town is known for is still here," said Jeff Marlow, 23, a guitarist and vocalist who moved to Clarksdale from D.C. to pursue his music. "If the crowd at one of these venues claps for me, that will be more satisfying than a venue in a large city."
Freeman himself has never performed on the club's stage. He's more of an actor than a singer, though he can carry a fine baritone tune. But he does credit Clarksdale as the place where he got his acting chops, a humble start for an enviable career that has included such box-office hits as "Million Dollar Baby" (for which he won an Oscar this year), "Driving Miss Daisy," "The Shawshank Redemption" and "March of the Penguins" (he was the narrator).
Freeman was raised for a time by his grandmother in nearby Charleston, Miss., while his parents were living in Chicago. His grandmother died when he was 6, and his father moved Freeman and his sister north. He stayed for less than a year before returning to Greenwood in neighboring Leflore County, where he remained for most of his formative years. Here, amid racial injustice and an impoverished local economy, he read Shakespeare and plunged into the dramatic arts. All the while, the Delta culture was streaming through his veins.
"I graduated from high school in 1955 and left running, never to come back again," said Freeman. "But as soon as I was away, I began to notice the differences and the sameness between Mississippi and the rest of the country. We get a bad reputation for being segregated, but I've never found any greater place. California, New York, Chicago, never found it."
In the mid-'90s, he and his second wife, Myrna Colley-Lee, returned for good, building a home on the land his parents once owned. And if the mockingbirds and gracious folks lose their appeal at least his investments will keep him around.
Besides the club, Freeman and Luckett also own a local restaurant, because, they say, they were tired of driving 60 to 80 miles for a good meal. Madidi, just down the street from Ground Zero, seems out of place with the other local spots -- a barbecue joint on the highway, a Mennonite-run diner, a coffee shop with a bookie in the back. An elegant place that serves such upscale entrees as venison flambe and a terrine of foie gras, it could fool you into thinking you were in Los Angeles. The walls are adorned with stunning artwork, mostly local but some from Freeman's own collection.
Freeman sightings are common at the restaurant, and he comes in unannounced, without bodyguards -- and yes, he always pays his tab. Usually before a meal, he does the rounds, stopping at tables to say hello, give a hug, agree to a photo.
"I shouldn't talk about it as a problem. Sometimes when I am home I get to go to Ground Zero, but I can't stay for very long," he said. "Everybody has a camera and bits of paper."
During this night's meal, though, no one bothered the man who once drove Miss Daisy, played God to Jim Carrey and pumped up a Million Dollar Baby. Instead, he approached them.
As Freeman wandered through the restaurant, smiling at customers and staff, his dinner mates prepared to move the party to the club. But Freeman bowed out. He was ready to go home, although he was already there.
Intel, Freeman form online movie distributor
By Anne Thompson and Chris Marlowe
Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman's production house has joined forces with Intel Corp. to form a digital entertainment company that will allow consumers to watch movies online before they come out on DVD.
The new company, ClickStar Inc., will launch next year, with undisclosed investments from Morgan's Revelations Entertainment and Intel, the world's No. 1 chipmaker.
The company was unveiled Wednesday by Freeman and Intel president and CEO Paul Otellini at investment bank Allen & Co.'s annual conference of media executives in Sun Valley, Idaho.
For an undetermined price, ClickStar will offer users premium, first-run movies before they're available on DVD -- and well before they normally would be available as part of the video-on-demand window. Under the conventional distribution system, movies that debut theatrically first play a DVD window before they are offered to online movie rental services. In addition, ClickStar will provide users access to Internet-only channels created by artists or other content owners.
"What we're setting up is a distribution platform strictly for the dissemination of film content," said Freeman, who will consult for the company. "It's probably later on that the studios might adopt it as a model and improve on it."
His Revelations partner, Lori McCreary, who will be chairman of the ClickStar board, added that she and Freeman were leveraging their industry relationships to assemble content for ClickStar and are aiming to begin distribution by next year. More announcements about specific deals for original and premium content will be revealed in the next six to eight weeks, they said. (Freeman has close ties with many top filmmakers, such as maverick Clint Eastwood, who directed him in "Million Dollar Baby," for which he won an Oscar this year, as well as studios like Warner Bros.)
"We'll be working both with independent filmmakers and studio content," McCreary said. "We've basically been speaking with our filmmaker friends and getting great feedback. We see it as a tremendous opportunity for everyone in the business."
ClickStar will be headed by former Sony Pictures executive Nizar Allibhoy, who will serve as CEO. Allibhoy said he hopes ClickStar will accomplish for Hollywood what Apple's Steve Jobs did with iTunes in the music industry.
"He demonstrated a new market for digital media," he said. "We have the same advantage of being the first out there."
As they approach the 2006 launch, Allibhoy plans to organize the service to take advantage of "smart" recommendation technologies for reading and predicting consumer taste.
ClickStar does not consider itself a direct competitor to such online movie rental services as Movielink and CinemaNow, which make films available either during the VOD window or after they go to sell-through. Consumers will be able to access ClickStar from a variety of digital sources as well as play the content on laptops, PDAs and other mobile devices.
"This truly is a missing piece in today's environment," said Roger Vakharia, managing director of content alliances at Intel's Content Services Group. "Movielink and CinemaNow are valuable services, but their content comes after the DVD. There is a demand there, but we believe it's a limited demand because the content has been out there already."
Vakharia acknowledges that making movies available before DVD will incite controversy, but he believes it will provoke even more positive discussion that eventually will prove profitable for all concerned.
McCreary said the alternative offered by ClickStar will not replace DVD, nor is it intended to. "Every new distribution medium will drive an incremental increase in revenues," she said.
With the movie box office is in a lengthy slump, she said she did not expect major studios to embrace ClickStar initially. "The home video market is huge, and they need to protect that," she said. "We're a smaller independent company, and we can make more aggressive moves. Most independent filmmakers would be categorized as an entrepreneurial endeavor. We're looking at products on our slate to see which would be appropriate for this platform."
Alerted to piracy concerns of the studios, Freeman noted that an additional benefit of ClickStar is that digital distribution as a format is actually more secure than DVD since the protection is different for each property and can be amended by the content owner without inconveniencing legitimate consumers.
Furthermore, at a time when global consumers are willing and able to take the time to download movies off the Internet, making it easy and cost-effective to view movies legally is the best deterrent to piracy, Freeman said. He therefore expects "a large portion of the industry" to become involved in ClickStar. "The DVD platform is very fragile; digital download is less fragile," he said. "As some of the more major players in the industry become secure about that, there will be a flood."
Intel and Freeman's Revelations Entertainment have collaborated on the Intel-Revelations Open House, a venue designed to demonstrate to industry professionals a working version of the digital home of the future. The first house opened in January in Santa Monica, and they've produced spinoff versions at the Cannes Film Festival and in Sun Valley.
Morgan Freeman: a US president, then God, now Oscar winner
HOLLYWOOD (AFP) - Morgan Freeman started acting nearly 40 years ago, playing a wide variety of roles, including a chauffeur, a US president and God, but he had to wait until to finally win his first Oscar.
Freeman won the statuette for best supporting actor for his role as former boxer Eddie "Scrap-Iron" Dupris in Clint Eastwood's boxing drama "Million Dollar Baby."
In accepting the award, Freeman thanked those involved in the making of the film, especially director and lead actor nominee Eastwood, "for giving me the opportunity to work with him again and to work with Hilary Swank."
"This was a labor of love," he said.
The prolific 67-year-old star, born in the southern US state of Tennessee, began acting in theater productions in 1967 before moving on to film, where he has carved out a career from playing wise and determined characters.
He played the US president in the disaster flick "Deep Impact" (1997) and portrayed an even more powerful character -- God -- in "Bruce Almighty" (2003), a comedy starring Jim Carrey. He has also played former South African president Nelson Mandela and US civil rights activist Malcolm X.
Freeman earned his first of four Oscar nominations with his 1987 role as a tough pimp in "Street Smart." Although he failed to win the best supporting actor statuette, he was rewarded for his role by US film critic associations.
His moving portrayal of a chauffeur in the segregated US South in "Driving Miss Daisy" (1989) won him a Golden Globe in the United States and a Silver Bear at the Berlin film festival. He also earned his second Oscar nomination for the film, this time for best actor.
In the moving 1989 drama "Glory," Freeman played a soldier in the first all-black volunteer company to fight for the North in the US Civil War.
He starred alongside Kevin Costner in "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves" (1991) and with Brad Pitt in the crime thriller "Seven" (1995).
The father of four earned his third Oscar nomination, a best actor nod, for his role in "The Shawshank Redemption" (1994), based on a Stephen King book about a convicted killer (Tim Robbins) who insists he was wrongly accused.
"Million Dollar Baby" was Freeman's second collaboration with Eastwood. In 1992, he starred in "Unforgiven" alongside Eastwood, who also directed the film.
Making the most of 'carte blanche'
Morgan Freeman says Clint Eastwood knew what he could do in "Million Dollar Baby." An Oscar resulted.
By Lynn Smith, Times Staff Writer
After a long, accomplished career and four Oscar nominations, Morgan Freeman won a standing ovation from academy members as he accepted the best supporting actor award Sunday, his first, for his role in "Million Dollar Baby."
"It signified total acceptance," he told reporters backstage about the ovation. "It's kind of humbling to see people so happy I'd been named for this award. A lot of people say you're overdue. Maybe you are, maybe you aren't. But it's an accolade."
Also nominated were Alan Alda for "The Aviator," Thomas Haden Church for "Sideways," Jamie Foxx for "Collateral" and Clive Owen for "Closer."
In "Million Dollar Baby," Freeman plays Scraps, a worn-out boxer, blind in one eye, who works for a gym owner played by director Clint Eastwood.
He accepted the award with a short, dignified speech. "I want to thank everybody and anybody who ever had anything at all to do with the making of this picture.... It was a labor of love."
Freeman especially thanked Eastwood, who also directed and starred with him in 1992's "Unforgiven."
Later, he said, "I'm the kind of actor who likes to get carte blanche. Clint hires you because he knows what you can do. He's completely out of the way. He's directing the picture. You do the acting. I love that. That's why he gets what he gets."
Freeman, who once claimed he preferred to be "unrecognizable," has often been cast in roles that were not specifically written for black characters.
Freeman was nominated previously as best supporting actor for 1987's "Street Smart" and for best actor in 1989's "Driving Miss Daisy" and in 1994's "The Shawshank Redemption."
After losing the Oscar for "Driving Miss Daisy," he said, "I became philosophical about an Oscar. It occurred to me that winning the nomination is the height of it, the best you can reasonably go. After that it's pretty arbitrary. Who can be 'the best'?
"But when they call out your name, all that goes out the window, of course."
Additional information about Morgan Freeman
Morgan Freeman@Internet Movie Database
The Morgan Freeman Fanlisting
Morgan Freeman@The Movie Times.com