Rock Stars Score Big

Any enterprising musicians in search of fresh revenue streams and modes of expression should consider the cinema a godsend. For the arena-filling vanguard, it's a chance to stretch out—Jonny Greenwood's music for There Will Be Blood and The Master outcreeps Radiohead, and Trent Reznor (left) won an Oscar for The Social Network. For others, it's a lucrative second act. Ex–Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Cliff Martinez has well eclipsed his former career with his work on Drive and Spring Breakers as well as nine Steven Soderbergh movies. Alex Ebert of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros is doing the music for All Is Lost; Vampire Weekend's Rostam Batmanglij scored his brother Zal's Sound of My Voice; and Will Oldham teamed with David Byrne (billed as the Pieces of Shit) for This Must Be the Place, which stars Sean Penn as a dead ringer for the Cure's Robert Smith. The grass, it seems, is always greener.

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You Ought To Be In Scriptures

Screenwriters have just about run out of Greek, Roman, and comic-book mythology to plunder, so they're turning to a familiar treasure trove of action-packed source material: the Bible. Not since the glory days of Cecil B. De Mille have there been so many projects based on the Good Book, which, like the stories of DC and Marvel, offers built-in audience familiarity, classic good-vs.-evil story lines, and occasional world destruction, but very much unlike them, doesn't cost anything to license. Here are five epic tales already under way, boasting varying elements of blasphemy, and expect many more: Movies based on the characters of Samson, Pontius Pilate, and David and Goliath are reportedly in the works.

Mary Mother of Christ
Benedict Fitzgerald, who wrote The Passion of the Christ, is behind next year's pseudo-prequel, featuring Ben Kingsley as King Herod.
Hollywood Twist: The federal government will earn a portion of the film's profits, thanks to a plea deal with a drug trafficker who acquired the script.

To depict the great flood, director Darren Aronofsky is building an ark to the scale specified in the Bible.
Hollywood Twist: As portrayed by Russell Crowe, Noah will be a Mad Max–style warrior living in an apocalyptic wasteland when the movie arrives in March 2014.

The Redemption of Cain
For his directorial debut, due summer 2015, Will Smith tackles the timeless tale of Cain, Adam and Eve's firstborn, who kills his brother Abel out of jealousy.
Hollywood Twist: Vampires are somehow involved, possibly giving new meaning to "the mark of Cain."

Jesus of Nazareth
Showgirls schlockmeister Paul Verhoeven is adapting his own quasi-scholarly account of the life of Christ with help from Pulp Fiction cowriter Roger Avary.
Hollywood Twist: In the book, Mary may not have had a virgin birth, but rather was raped by a Roman centurion.

Gods and Kings
Steven Spielberg is considering directing this Old Testament epic, which would turn the Moses fable into a gritty warrior story.
Hollywood Twist: These things always come in pairs: Ridley Scott is planning his own biopic about the prophet, the succinctly titled Moses.

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On-Demand, In Command

After watching the slow-to-adapt music biz dig its own grave, enterprising movie producers are embracing digital (and dissuading piracy) by erasing the stigma of straight-to-video and turning the buzz surrounding video on demand into a marketing boon. Rather than shell out $20 million for billboard campaigns—on top of production costs—modestly budgeted indie movies can turn a quick, dignified profit by offering instant access to specifically targeted audiences. "You can have a small theatrical run and DVD shelf life," says FilmBuff CEO Janet Brown, who is overseeing January's VOD release of Roman Coppola's A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III, "or immediately connect with 200 million people online."

Pre-theatrical "ultra" VOD: Distributors release a movie online for $10, four weeks prior to a theatrical run, building buzz as well as revenue. With the help of social media, the Weinstein Company's RADiUs-TWC Distribution steered Bachelorette—initially perceived as a Bridesmaids knockoff—to a record-breaking $4 million in VOD sales before the movie even hit brick-and-mortar theaters.

"Day-and-date" VOD: Distributors purchase a few theaters concurrently with a VOD release. While few ticket sales are expected, the cachet justifies the $7 premium price and helps stoke media coverage. In 2011, Lionsgate CEO Jon Feltheimer bet big on this approach for Margin Call and saw his studio's online income jump 80 percent in one quarter, then had similar success with this year's Arbitrage.

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Robots Are the New Vampires

From Gort, the monumental metal man in The Day the Earth Stood Still, to "These aren't the droids you're looking for" to Blade Runner's replicants (not to mention Maria from Fritz Lang's Metropolis, the T-1000, and WALL-E), robots have a long, often dark cinematic history. Vampires had their moment, thanks to the Twilight saga and its imitators, but machines are once again the ascendant not-quite-human on the big screen—and they've matured a bit. In the past, "robots either wanted to be us or they wanted to kill us," says novelist Daniel H. Wilson, whose best-selling Robopocalypse is set to become a Steven Spielberg blockbuster in 2014. Today's movie machines have more nuanced intentions, he says, pointing to last summer's Robot & Frank, in which a caregiver robot helps his elderly charge become a cat burglar. To see how far we've come in a generation, contrast Michael Fassbender's David in Prometheus with his contextual (if not narratively chronological) antecedent, Ian Holm's Ash in Alien: While the earlier android betrays his crew at the behest of an evil corporate overlord, the later one is motivated by his thirst for knowledge. Perhaps it figures that RoboCop—one of the most ambiguous portrayals of a cyborg's humanity ever created—is getting a big-budget remake in early 2014, and I, Robot 2 is due the following year. For Wilson, the focus on sentient machinery is one of the signs we've entered a new golden age of science fiction. "The beautiful thing about technology is that the more it does for us, the more we depend on it, and the more we depend on it, the more we fear it," he says. "As robotics matures as a field and robots start playing a larger role in our lives, we're going to find more ways—and more complex ways—to be afraid of them."

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