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►  J.J. Abrams to write and direct ‘Star Wars: Episode IX’

J.J. Abrams is returning to “Star Wars,” and will replace Colin Trevorrow as writer and director of “Episode IX,” pushing the film’s release date back seven months.

Disney announced Abrams return on Tuesday a week after news broke of Trevorrow’s departure. After several high-profile exits by previous “Star Wars” directors, Lucasfilm is turning to the filmmaker who helped resurrect the franchise in the first place. Abrams will co-write the film with screenwriter Chris Terrio, who won an Oscar for adapting “Argo,” and also co-wrote “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.”

As the director of “The Force Awakens,” Abrams rebooted “Star Wars” to largely glowing reviews from fans and more than $2 billion in box office. Abrams had said that would be his only film for the franchise, but he’s now been pulled back in.

Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy said that Abrams “delivered everything we could have possibly hoped for” on “The Force Awakens” and added “I am so excited that he is coming back to close out this trilogy.”

This move also means Abrams will be the only director aside from “Star Wars” creator George Lucas to direct more than one “Star Wars” film.

“Star Wars: Episode IX” was originally slated to hit theaters in May 2019, but in the wake of the shift has officially been pushed back to a December 20, 2019 release. It is the final installment in the new “main” Star Wars trilogy that began with Abrams’ “The Force Awakens” in 2015 and will continue this December with director Rian Johnson’s “The Last Jedi.”

Lucasfilm has had a number of public fallouts with “Star Wars” directors over the past few years.

Earlier this year the young Han Solo spinoff film parted ways with director Phil Lord and Christopher Miller and swiftly replaced them with Ron Howard deep into production. In 2015, the company fired director Josh Trank from work on another Star Wars spinoff. And extensive reshoots on “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” led to widespread speculation that director Gareth Edwards had been unofficially sidelined by Tony Gilroy.

News of Abrams’ return was greeted warmly by fans on social media Tuesday. He hasn’t directed or committing to directing another project since “The Force Awakens,” and instead had been focused on producing.

“I’m very much enjoying taking a moment. Since I’ve done the show ‘Felicity,’ I’ve gone from project to project. So it’s been 20 years since I haven’t been prepping, casting, shooting, editing something,” Abrams told The Associated Press in March.

That moment, however brief, is over. For Abrams, it’s time to go back to the Millennium Falcon and that galaxy far, far away.


►  Stephen Colbert rolls out red carpet for political Emmy show

If this whole TV thing doesn’t work out for Stephen Colbert, he has a bright future in carpet sales.

The first-time Emmy Awards host helped roll out the show’s ceremonial red carpet Tuesday at L.A. Live alongside telecast producers, saying that while it’s an honor to host the show, “it’s even more of an honor to be installing the carpet.”

“I’m glad there are cameras here because so few people know just how much manual labor is involved with hosting the Emmys every year,” Colbert said. “If you like this, stick around because I’m going to go re-grout the bathrooms right after this.”

Colbert also noted some of the rug’s features (“It’s a Stainmaster carpet. It’s indoor-outdoor.“) And he sang a carpet company’s advertising jingle, which he referred to as “our Emmys red carpet rollout national anthem,” before the promotional rollout.

No sooner had he and the producers finished unrolling it, a pair of workers swooped in to roll it back up and haul it away. (The real red carpet used by celebrities on Sunday will be installed several feet away, in front of the Microsoft Theater.)

Colbert, who has won multiple Emmys for his work on “The Colbert Report” and “The Daily Show” and is nominated again Sunday for “The Late Show,” described the Emmy ceremony as “an incredibly fun show to go to every year when you win.”

“If you lose, it’s an enormous waste of time,” he said. “But everyone’s going to win this year. I’ve talked with these guys and we want everyone to have fun, so everyone will win the Emmys this year. Spoiler. Spoiler alert.”

When asked how political the show could get, Colbert said the Emmys are about celebrating television, “and the biggest television star of the last year was Donald Trump.”

“The fact that he’s not nominated, it’s a crime,” Colbert said. “It’s a high crime and a misdemeanor that you are not nominated, sir. Where’s the investigation of that? Where was James Comey on that?”

And does the host expect the president (and previous Emmy nominee) to tune into Sunday’s show?

“He might care about who wins the reality-show category,” Colbert said. “‘Amazing Race’ is nominated, and that’s who he lost to every year for ‘The Apprentice.’ So he might want to see them go down. He might still have hard feelings. He seems like a guy who holds a grudge.

“He actually said in one of the debates with Hillary Clinton — she said like, ‘And then after he lost the Emmys, he complained they were rigged.’ And he goes, ‘I should have won.’ So he cares! You know he cares. We know you care.”


►  Focus on Fall at Twin Falls Resort State Park Photography Workshop

Reservations are being taken for Twin Falls Resort State Park’s annual Fall Photography Workshop, scheduled to take place October 06-08. Steve Shaluta, Steve Rotsch and Park Superintendent Scott Durham are the instructors.

“This fall workshop is the perfect time to learn new skills and hone old ones,” Durham said. “Twin Falls’ 4,000 acres, complete with the park’s Pioneer Farm, are picture-perfect settings for photography. There is always the possibility you’ll capture photographs of the park’s flora and fauna any time of the year, but the October dates promise fall coloration.”

The workshops are helpful for photographers of all skill levels and include discussions about photography equipment and photo editing tools, composition, use of natural light and flash photography, how to photograph people, action photography, scenic photography, digital imaging and file storage, and even drone photography. Participants are welcome to ask questions during the workshop. Instructors also provide hands-on photography outings, including night photography.

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Photographer Steve Shaluta retired from the West Virginia Department of Commerce after an illustrious and award-winning career. His photos have graced more than 300 magazine covers, tourism advertisements and newspaper and magazine articles. He has also published seven books, including the most recent, “Wonders of West Virginia.” Shaluta now spends his time photographing wildlife between Florida and West Virginia.

Photographer Steve Rotsch is an international award-winning photographer who has been photographing the great outdoors for more than 40 years. He has worked as a forensic photographer, photojournalist, commercial photographer and has been a personal documentary photographer to five West Virginia governors. He also has seven self-published books.

Find information about the instructors on Facebook at “Steve and Steve Photography Workshops.” You can see their work at steveshaluta.com and stevenrotsch.com.

Workshop packages are available and include overnight accommodations, some meals and instruction. Reservations are required and can be made by calling Twin Falls Resort State Park at 304.294.4000.


►  The ‘It’ factor: How a scary big hit could change horror

There are no sure things in Hollywood, but modestly-budgeted horror movies come pretty close. This weekend took that thinking to new heights as the big screen adaptation of Stephen King’s “It” shattered records and even the boldest predictions with its $123.4 million debut.

Until “It,” no horror movie had ever even opened over $55 million, let alone $100 million. It had a cast with no movie stars and it only cost $35 million to produce — on the high end for a modern horror movie, but minuscule compared to standard superhero budgets, which generally cost over $100 million and often run north of $250 million.

Even as the industry continues to lament the year’s lagging box office, which is down around 5.5 percent from 2016, 2017 has been good for horror with massive successes like “Get Out,” ″Split,” ″Annabelle: Creation” and now the new bar set by “It.”

“If ‘It’ had made $120 million total it would have been a huge hit,” says Forbes contributor Scott Mendelson. “This is so unprecedented.”

There is already a sequel in the works. “It” focuses on the children of Derry, Maine, while Part 2, expected in the third quarter of 2019, will focus on the adults.

Mendelson predicts “It’s” success could lead to more modestly budgeted Stephen King adaptations, but cautions against thinking that its results can be replicated.

“This was very much the ‘Beauty and the Beast’ of horror movies,” Mendelson said, referring to the Walt Disney Company’s smash live-action hit from earlier this year. “You have a movie that would have been an event by itself, but you also have the source material that captures several generations of interest and nostalgia.”

Beyond a newly energized appreciation for King’s box office potential (excluding “The Dark Tower,”) “It” has some wondering whether Hollywood’s horror strategy might shift.

“Everyone has been trying to mold themselves into this low budget model that sort of doesn’t work anymore. There are only so many things you can do with a limited budget like that,” said Kailey Marsh, who runs her own management company and founded the BloodList, which highlights unproduced “dark genre” scripts.

“What I liked about ‘It’ was that it looked and felt really expensive. It felt as expensive as a $100 million movie,” she said.

“It” hit a cultural nerve and become one of those rare must-see event movies that all studios long for, but the Warner Bros. and New Line production is also a solidly mid-budget film— which is its own kind of anomaly in the current moviemaking landscape that has relied heavily on “micro” and low budget horror films in the $3 to $15 million range in recent years.

It’s a strategy that has worked well for Blumhouse Productions, the company behind the “Paranormal Activity” series, “Insidious,” ″The Purge,” ″Sinister,” and this year’s “Split” and “Get Out”— all of which cost under $15 million and most under $5 million — and something other studios have latched on to as well.

Aside from “It,” only a handful of horror films the past five years have touted budgets over $20 million, like “The Conjuring” films which are also from Warner Bros. and New Line. But even their “Annabelle” spinoffs have been made for $15 million or less.

“We try to make the best movie that we can with the best content that we can using the best talent that we can. We try to make it at the right price. If the right price is small we’ll try to do that,” said Jeff Goldstein, who heads up distribution for Warner Bros.

Marsh expects some studios to take note of the added return on investment that is possible with a slightly bigger budget.

“Because Hollywood is reactionary, and rightfully so, I am excited about not having to develop screenplays that are supposed to be capped at $10 million,” Marsh said. “You can get such a better cast and such better quality in the long run.”


►  ‘Pinocchio,’ ‘Fantasia’ animator ‘X’ Atencio dead at 98

Xavier “X″ Atencio, an animator behind early Disney movies including “Pinocchio” and “Fantasia” and “imagineer” behind beloved Disneyland rides like “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “The Haunted Mansion,” has died at age 98.

Disneyland spokeswoman Suzi Brown confirmed a company statement saying Atencio died Sunday. No cause or place of death were given, but Atencio lived and worked in the Los Angeles area most of his life.

Atencio’s drawings on “Pinocchio” helped give Disney its permanent identity in film and culture. His contributions to “Pirates” included the words to the “Yo Ho (A Pirate’s Life for Me)” song that is sung throughout the ride and by parkgoers for days after.

He was born Francis Xavier Atencio in Walsenburg, Colorado. But friends in his youth called him just “X,” the name he was known by the rest of his life.

He was still a teenager with a gift for drawing in 1938 when he began working for Disney, a company that was even younger than he was and had just one feature film — 1937′s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” — to its name.

Atencio would see his work on the big screen in the company’s next two films in 1940, when he helped bring “Pinocchio” to life and worked on the musical and mystical “Fantasia” before leaving temporarily to serve in World War II.

After returning, he helped design stop-motion sequences for the Disney live action films “The Parent Trap” and “Mary Poppins.”

When the company’s work started including theme parks in the 1950s and 1960s, so did Atencio’s. At the request of Walt Disney, he became an imagineer in the company’s parlance, helping design rides for Disneyland and Disney World. He wrote the story and song that play out on “Pirates” and “Haunted Mansion.”

“X was an enormous talent who helped define so many of our best experiences around the world,” Bob Weis, president of Walt Disney Imagineering, said in a statement. “Some may not know that when he wrote the lyrics for ‘Yo Ho’ he had never actually written a song before. He simply proposed the idea of a tune for ‘Pirates of the Caribbean,’ and Walt told him to go and do it.”

Atencio retired in 1984, but he continued working as a consultant. In 1996, was declared a Disney Legend by the company.

His death comes just weeks after that of another Disney Imagineering legend, Marty Sklar.

Atencio is survived by his wife, Maureen, three children, three stepchildren and nine grandchildren.

--> Wednesday, September 13, 2017
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