Newsletter: California Inc.: Hollywood makes a splash with Oscar nominations

Fox Searchlight is expected to dominate this week’s Oscar nominations with Guillermo del Toro’s acclaimed girl-meets-fish-guy romance, “The Shape of Water.”
(Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Welcome to California Inc., the weekly newsletter of the L.A. Times Business Section.

I’m Business columnist David Lazarus, and here’s a rundown of upcoming stories this week and the highlights of last week.

Are you one of the millions of people who are Amazon Prime members? Heads up for when it comes time to renew: The $99 annual fee won’t change, but the e-commerce behemoth has raised the price of monthly Prime memberships. New monthly members will now pay $12.99, up from $10.99. Qualifying college students will pay $6.49, up from $5.49.



Oscar noms: Hollywood’s award season hits the final stretch when Oscar nominations are announced Tuesday. 20th Century Fox’s specialty film arm Fox Searchlight is expected to clean up with Guillermo del Toro’s acclaimed girl-meets-fish-guy romance “The Shape of Water” and the dark comedy “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” Fox’s “The Post” is also expected to collect multiple nods.

Semi-wild ones: Gearheads are leaving the Southland and flocking to Las Vegas for the annual Mecum motorcycle auction, one of the largest such events. The auction runs Tuesday through Saturday at South Point Hotel & Casino and will feature hundreds of vintage, historic and collectible bikes.

Stat watch: Watch for some key stats Thursday. The latest figure on weekly U.S. jobless claims will be released (last week, new filings plunged to the lowest level in almost 45 years). We’ll also learn how many new homes were sold in December (purchases surged to the fastest pace in more than 25 years in November).

Economic growth: A first look at fourth-quarter GDP numbers comes Friday. Last month, the U.S. economy’s third-quarter growth was revised slightly downward to 3.2% on lower contributions from consumer spending and trade. Even so, the pace remained the fastest since early 2015.


Maze Runner redux: As the Oscar nomination dust settles, Fox will close out its teen science-fiction trilogy based on the popular “Maze Runner” books with “Maze Runner: The Death Cure,” premiering Friday. The film is expected to have a North American opening of $20 million to $25 million, which would be the weakest domestic debut for the franchise.


Monday’s Business section delves into the natural gas market. Natural gas is the nation’s leading source of electricity. It’s abundant and cheap, which has crippled the coal industry and affected virtually every other source of power that makes up the energy grid. But “King Gas” has its critics — especially among environmentalists — and California’s fast-changing energy landscape offers hints that a long, smooth reign for natural gas is far from assured.



Here are some of the other stories that ran in the Times Business section in recent days that we’re continuing to follow:

You like us! said Los Angeles and 19 other places are the finalists for the $5-billion second headquarters the giant online retailer plans to build. The largest concentration of contenders is in the Northeast; Los Angeles is the only finalist west of the Rocky Mountains. Amazon said that in the coming months, it would work with each finalist location “to dive deeper into their proposals, request additional information and evaluate the feasibility of a future partnership.”

Movie malaise: Movie attendance in the United States and Canada fell even more than expected in 2017, as the average ticket price hit a record high, according to the National Assn. of Theatre Owners. The number of tickets sold was 1.24 billion, down 6% from 2016. That’s steeper than the 4% decline that studio executives projected in December, and it marks a 22-year low for the industry.

Apple expands: As it moves full-steam ahead into original programming, Apple will elevate its physical presence in Hollywood in a significant way by planting a flag in Culver City. The tech giant will lease an entire building near Culver City’s fashionable art gallery district. Meanwhile, Apple revealed a plan that would make it the first major company to repatriate money from overseas as a result of the new corporate-friendly federal tax law.


Wells Fargo: A former Wells Fargo mortgage banker in Beverly Hills who was fired and later fined by federal regulators has sued the bank, saying that he was used as a scapegoat and that regulators ignored his attempts to report bad practices. Meanwhile, the GOP tax overhaul saved Wells Fargo more than $3 billion in the fourth quarter, but the bank also set aside more than $3 billion to cover costs related to ongoing problems with its consumer businesses.


And some recent stories from other publications that caught our eye:

Kalanick unbound: From Bloomberg Businessweek, a close look at the demise of former Uber wunderkind Travis Kalanick. “Founders enjoy an exalted status in Silicon Valley. Apple Inc. once fired Steve Jobs; then he came back and led it to historic greatness.... You’re either 100% behind a CEO or against them. There is no in-between.”


If you can’t beat ’em: The New York Times tells how some hospitals, fed up with drug companies, will manufacture their own generics. “This is a shot across the bow of the bad guys,” one hospital exec said. “We are not going to lay down. We are going to go ahead and try and fix it.”

Transparent: The New Yorker checks out the jobs site Glassdoor, which is bringing greater transparency to workplaces. “Glassdoor upended workplace power dynamics in the same way that altered the power dynamics of college lecture halls, where, suddenly, professors had to worry about whether their students found them to be ‘inspirational’ or ‘hot.’”

Woe is Woody: As Hollywood experiences a cultural shift in how the industry regards and treats women, the Atlantic focuses on how this is playing out for one particular filmmaker — Woody Allen. “Years after his daughter reiterated her allegation that the director sexually abused her, more actors are voicing their regret for collaborating with him.”



After a year of the Trump presidency, the Wall Street Journal offers a how-to guide for dealing with the Billionaire-in-Chief, based on the experiences of more than 50 people. Among other helpful tips: Be prepared for the topic to change quickly (the president’s mind likes to hop about) and don’t be surprised by blunt comments (the president speaks his mind). Oh, and don’t expect him to say he’s sorry for anything. “Never, ever apologize” is Trump’s motto.

For the latest money news, go to Mad props to Scott J. Wilson for helping put this thing together.

Until next time, I’ll see you in the Business section.