California Roundup: Trojan Victory; Grand Delusion; Hollywood Cannibals, and More

* Looking for a pack of Trojans? University of Southern California edges past University of California Los Angeles for the first time in U.S. Snooze's college rankings. L.A. Times takes all of five paragraphs to blame it on budget cuts to the UC system. The private University of Spoiled Children says its move is part of a decades-long investment in excellence.

* Speaking of gangbangs with the Duke and Clara Bow... It turns out even if you give free land to billionaires, you can't get them to build anything in downtown L.A. The so-called "Grand Avenue Project" is dead again, with current developer "Related Cos." asking the city and county to let it keep holding onto blocks of prime hillside real estate in exchange for a promise to start building some ugly Frank Gehry piece of garbage in, uh, 2013? Because just selling the land is so complicated, but giving subsidies to plutocrats and funneling power through one of the most corrupt collections of politicians, community activists and development hustlers on Earth is so simple. Where's Mike Davis when L.A. needs him?

* Follow me if you want to live: Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger uses op-ed real estate in the Wall Street Journal to explain what's going on in his fight over the state budget. Most of his material will be familiar -- especially if you read my column coming sometime today -- but here's an atrocity I hadn't heard about: "In 2003, just before I became governor, the state assembly even passed a law permitting government employees to purchase additional taxpayer-guaranteed, high-yielding retirement annuities at a discount—adding even more retirement debt."

* Ponzi pix: No political content, but an interesting little story of a Laguna Niguel movie producer accused of bilking investors out of $9 million. With the understanding that Mahmoud Karkehabadi is innocent until proven guilty, Orange County seems to be fertile ground for cases like this one, in which a semi-legitimate business run by a character with a checkered past manages to attract many investors -- 150 in "Mike" Karkehabadi's case -- and then, either by prior design or because it's just easier to start hoodwinking new investors than to keep trying to make things fly in the marketplace, turns into a Ponzi scheme. The case of the late Danny Pang (disclosure: I worked as a flack for one of the parties in that case) followed a similar pattern: It started out as a legitimate life settlement investment business, then mutated into a Ponzi scheme as it turned out people weren't dying fast enough to bring in the promised returns.

In Karkehabadi's case, his Alliance Group Entertainment actually has produced a few movies -- though few enough that investors should have been suspicious of his claims of double-digit returns. If you make a movie cheap enough and marketable enough, first-payout investors can in fact make double digit returns, and it appears that one of Karkehabadi's movies -- 2005's Confessions of a Pit Fighter -- seems to have had a small theatrical release. But 2008's Farmhouse, for example, did not. ("I was so horrified by the utter incompetence displayed by everyone involved in this film that I literally searched online for half an hour to find contact information for the director, just to tell him the extent of his inadequacy. After failing to find any relevant information on the director to write him some dissatisfied note, I decided to write on this site," reports dissatisfied customer from United States.) The California attorney general's office says Alliance only generated $535,000 in revenue from movies. Shouldn't investors 99 through 150, at least, have looked at the modest slate of movies and wondered where the promised returns were going to come from?

* Picture contest! This is the former Delmar Theater on Pico Blvd. in Los Angeles:

The Delmar was built in the 1940s and has not shown a movie since the early 1980s. It is now home to an audio post-production facility.

Does this picture show:

a. the genius of entrepreneurs adapting to fluid conditions and changing markets

b. self-cannibalization by a dying industry that can no longer attract enough end users (i.e. ticket buyers)

c. I don't take part in contests with only two options

?

I have no idea what the correct answer is, but I'm sure how you respond determines whether you truly believe in free markets or should be purged from libertarianism forever.

Correction: Commenter prolefeed points to a slight increase in tickets sold in the first quarter. Although the number of tickets sold (as opposed to total box office) is down from its 2002 peak, longterm domestic ticket-sales, relative to U.S. population growth, are flat or up very slightly -- not declining.

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  • ChrisO||

    I worked at an audio post facility for awhile, and they need a theater-sized soundstage to help attract business. This was actually a very smart move by this company, since the alternative is to build an entire new facilty with a room the size, shape and configuration of a movie theater.

  • Apologetic California||

    USC outranking UCLA is pretty much a margin of error. USC has been anklebiting at two spots down for so long that any shift in USN annual "I'm-bored-lets-change-our-formula-again" is bound to create this anomaly. Say what you'd like about UCLA, but no one actually thinks USC is a top 50 university. Not even US News world ranking which places South Central's biggest gang (the Trojan Alumni Network, TAN for short) 80 spots behind UCLA.

  • DG||

    USN never changes the formula. It's basically, who has the biggest endowment. When they actually changed the ratings and Cal Tech went to #1 ahead of HYP, they fired the woman in charge and went back to the old formula.

  • skr||

    it does kind of matter what school in the Uni you're talking about. Film school, pretty damn good. Fine art, not so much wheras FUCLA has a great Fine Art school( at least grad). Business? well if you stay in LA, USC business could make you a fortune.

  • mr simple||

    B. No, A. Aaaaahhhhhhhhhh!

    [flung into ravine]

  • Fletch F. Fletch||

    D. Profits!

  • Irresponsible Hater||

    The rankings fail to account for the fact that USC grads are far more likely to be major assholes.

  • Hugh Akston||

    This phrasing admits of a marginal possibility that they won't be major assholes.

  • skr||

    Yeah right, because 4 years in Brentwood doesn't increase the potential for assholitude. I have met plenty of dicks from both schools.

  • Irresponsible Hater||

    UCLA's in Westwood, not Brentwood.

    Brentwood is where USC grads often go to live, shit out a couple kids, and sometimes cut their ex-wives' heads off.

  • Apogee||

    Yes, the slum of Westwood.

  • ||

    d. the subject of Cavanaugh's poorly-researched contest about the theater that was sometimes called "the poor man's Pan-Pacific Auditorium," even as he insists on contracting its name into 1 word, is a typical American fable of adaptive re-use with which he might be familiar if he ever sallied east of where San Vicente Blvd. starts (watch out, Tim, it becomes ethnic quickly). Try northern Las Vegas, Nev. for further examples. Even driving through Schenectady I saw the marquee of a venereal old playhouse being used to electioneer for county judge Joe Jackball and a non-518 number to call for further advertising. This was near ZIP code 12345

    All pretty despicable, but I didn't see any lame "significance" in it. I guess that's why YOU'RE the journalist

  • BakedPenguin||

    ...I saw the marquee of a venereal old playhouse...

    Did you mean venerable, or did they have live-action pornography there?

  • Almanian||

    I appreciate the CA posts b/c just when I think no state in the union is as fucked up as Michigan...

    Thanks for the Mike Davis link - very interesting. Mega-weird...but interesting.

    Schadenfreude - what a wonderful thing :)

  • ||

    self-cannibalization by a dying industry that can no longer attract enough end users (i.e. ticket buyers)

    you might want to try the googles before spouting objectively wrong statements:

    tickets revenue up a lot, attendance up slightly

  • Tim Cavanaugh||

    Corrected. I guess I assumed everybody else had grown to loathe going to the movies as much as I have.

  • skr||

    I'm guesing it is currently the only entertainment they can afford.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Don't forget to shake your non-cane holding fist at the kids on your lawn, Tim.

  • Apogee||

    Don't be ridiculous. The hose works much better.

  • ||

    Most of us probably do, but if it's true that the revenue's up a lot but the attendance needle has only twitched, it's probably because they jacked ticket prices, and jacked them again to add Amazing Magic 3-D Action to crappy and forgettable blockbusters.

  • Invisible Finger||

    I'm not 100% sure there needs to be a correction. Flat sales of tickets in an increasing population means decline on a per capita basis.

    But the industry certainly isn't dying. what the picture shows me is that the industry has figured out a way such that they don't have to book just 1 film (in advance) for a showing and having their cash flow fate be a gamble; multiplexes improve cost and revenue certainty.

    At the time this theater was built, the typical movie house showed 15 to 18 reels of film which was often a better deal for the customer - the feature may have sucked but the rest of the program (the short films) may have been entertaining enough. Now a theater shows 4 or more feature-length films and charges for each one - but something on the list of films should appeal to you. The 6-reelers-or-less have been become the province of television.

  • cynical||

    But they have 3d now! The wave of the future.

  • Apogee||

    If you happen to be in 1947.

  • Fire Tiger||

    d) Neither. a) Invalid because the current owner never operated it as a movie theater, having purchased it after it had been gutted and turned into a photography studio. b) Invalid because the surrounding area suffers from an "ongoing problem of a complete lack of parking" to support a movie theater.

  • Geotpf||

    Plus, multiplexes are much more efficient than stand alone movie theaters. For every single screen movie theater that has closed over the years, several additional screens opened up at 8, 10, 12, or 30-plexes.

  • ||

    Looking for a pack of Trojans? University of Southern California edges past University of California Los Angeles for the first time in U.S. Snooze's college rankings. L.A. Times takes all of five paragraphs to blame it on budget cuts to the UC system. The private University of Spoiled Children says its move is part of a decades-long investment in excellence.

    I bet there's a cover-up.

  • BakedPenguin||

    *rimshot*

  • ||

    In Karkehabadi's case, his Alliance Group Entertainment actually has produced a few movies -- though few enough that investors should have been suspicious of his claims of double-digit returns.

    Does he by any chance bear an eerie resemblance to Zero Mostel?

  • Tony||

    ugly Frank Gehry piece of garbage

    wtf?

  • BakedPenguin||

    Well, this, for example.

  • Colonel_Angus||

    Exactly. Frank Gehry designs suck. I can think of about six cities that have that exact same piece of shit building (built at taxpayer expense).

  • Tom||

    I'm surprised this little bit was left out: http://www.latimes.com/news/op.....1241.story

  • BakedPenguin||

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