The Monsters Ball is a 2010 American black and white broadcast drama film based on the true story of cartoon industry whistleblower Seth MacFarlane directed by John Colvin. Similar to The Insider and a spin off or ripoff of Good Night and Good Luck, it portrays the conflict between reporter and journalist Eduardo Goyo and his conflict with trying to change an episode of Adventure Time and Regular Show so his wife, who dislikes Cartoon Network, will like it.
The film, although released in black and white, was filmed on color film stock but on a grayscale set, and was color corrected to black and white during post-production. It focuses on the theme of media responsibility, and also addresses what occurs when the person who dislikes programming fights against the network. The film takes its title from the term used in broadcasting (not to be confused with Lee Daniels' 2001 film of the same name), where the "monster" (the network execs) use a "ball" to have a cartoon being born, and will have the way it will be presented.
The film stars Jesse Walsh and Michael Madsen, with Sandra Bullock, Bill Murray, Darryl Shannon, Liv Tyler, Melanie Chartoff, Anthony Taylor Hall, Jack Riley, Amber Eisenberg, Hugo Guinness, Gina Gershon, Olivia Christopher Renner, Brian Crouse and Seth Green in supporting roles.
It was nominated for 4 Academy Awards, including Best Actor (Jesse Walsh), Best Original Score, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Cinematography.
The Monster's Ball is set in late 2010, when Cartoon Network has had their series premiered, Adventure Time and Regular Show. Ted Turner (Madsen) and his dedicated staff, headed by storyboarders, creators, voice actors and producers Pendleton Ward (Murray) and J.G. (James Ganland) Quintel (Shannon), in the Cartoon Network headquarters, defy corporate sponsorship and have had their new series Adventure Time and Regular Show popular, while they discredit the tactics used by cartoon industry whistleblower Seth MacFarlane, of his crude animated series.
In Lebanon, Hezbollah militants escort producer Eduardo Goyo (Walsh) to Hezbollah founder Sheikh Fadlallah. Eduardo convinces him to be interviewed by Judy Ruffwood (Chartoff) for CEC TV show CEC TV Evening News.
In Atlanta, Georgia, Eduardo leaves his CEC TV station office, heading home to his wife Yvetta (Tyler) and two kids. When Yvetta asks about the boxes in Goyo's car, Eduardo reveals that he was fired from his job.
Upon returning home to his Atlanta townhouse, he receives an anonymous package containing documents related to corporation Time Warner, and approaches a friend who works at Cartoon Network for the name of someone who can put the information in layman's terms. Goyo is referred to Turner, only to be steadfastly rebuffed. Goyo eventually convinces him to meet him at the Atlanta Hilton.
Turner agrees to interpret, but tells him he can't talk about anything else because of his confidentiality agreement. After leaving with the documents, Turner appears at a meeting with the local station's CEO Stu Hirshman (Guinness), who orders him to sign an expanded confidentiality agreement. Turner calls and accuses Goyo of treachery.
Goyo visits Turner's home in the Paces, and maintains that he did not reveal anything to Time Warner. Reassured, Turner talks to Goyo about the seven CEOs of "Big Media" perjuring themselves to the United States Congress about their awareness of Seth MacFarlane's shows. Goyo says MacFarlane has to decide for himself whether to blow the whistle on big media.
Goyo returns to CEC TV Headquarters in Orange County, CA, where he and Ruffwood discuss Turner’s situation. A lawyer at the meeting claims that Turner’s confidentiality agreement would effectively silence him. Goyo proposes that Turner could be compelled to speak through a court order arising from unrelated State litigation against Big Media aimed at recovering the regular cartoons to not be quite risque. They conclude this could give Turner some protection against Time Warner should he do an interview for CEC TV Evening News.
The Turner family move into a newer, more affordable house, and he begins teaching an Atlanta high school. One night while asleep, he’s alerted by his daughter to sounds outside the house. Upon investigation, he discovers a fresh shoe print in his newly planted garden.
The next night, Goyo and Turner have dinner together, where Goyo asks Turner about incidents from his past that Big Media might use against him. Turner reveals several incriminating incidents before declaring he can’t see how they would affect his testimony. Goyo assures him they will.
Meanwhile, MacFarlane (who appears in archive footage), creates his next episode of Family Guy. The staff of Cartoon Network then write a press release of Regular Show being popular in its first few weeks of airing. Then, a very public feud develops when MacFarlane responds in his Family Guy episode where Turner is satirized in an episode that spoofs the September 11 attacks, when he accuses Turner of being a member of the al-Qaeda terrorist group, which Turner claims it was false.
In this climate of fear and reprisal, Goyo contacts Jeff Van Gorkum (Riley) and Kyra Friedman (Eisenberg), who, with Albany, Georgia's attorney general Pat Swayze, are suing Big Media to reimburse the state for an expose on the cartoon industry. The trio express an interest in Goyo's idea and tell him to have Turner call them. Meanwhile, Turner receives an email death threat and finds a bullet in his mailbox, prompting him to contact the FBI who, after subtly accusing him of being emotionally unbalanced, confiscate his computer for evidence.
Enraged over the threats to his family, Turner phones Goyo and demands to fly to Albany, Georgia and tape his testimony immediately. During Turner’s interview with Ruffwood, Turner states that MacFarlane is making his shows more addictive. He continues by saying Time Warner have consciously ignored public considerations in the name of profit.
In Atlanta, Georgia, Turner begins his new teaching job and talks to Jeff Van Gorkum. Upon returning home, Turner discovers that Goyo has given him some security personnel. Turner’s wife is struggling under the pressure and tells him so. Days later, Turner travels to Atlanta, Georgia, where he is served a restraining order issued by a State court in Georgia to prevent him from testifying.
Though the restraining order, obtained by Time Warner's lawyers, was thrown out in Georgia, Turner is threatened with the contention that if he testifies and returns to Albany he could be imprisoned for contempt of court. After a lengthy period of introspection, Turner goes to the Albany court and gives his deposition, during which he says animated series are drugs. Following his testimony, Turner returns, where he discovers that his wife and children have left him.
Goyo and Turner go to a meeting with CEC TV Corporate about the Regular Show episode. The applicability of a legal theory has emerged, one known as tortious interference: if two parties have an agreement, such as a confidentiality agreement, and one of those parties is induced by a third party to break that agreement, the third party can be sued by the other parties for any damages. The more truth Turner tells, the greater the damage, the theory applied goes, and a greater likelihood that CEC TV will be faced by a multi-billion dollar lawsuit from Time Warner. It is later suggested that an edited airing take the place of the original. Goyo vehemently disagrees, and claims that the reason CEC TV Corporate is leaning on CEC TV to edit the episode is because they fear that the prospect of a multi-billion dollar lawsuit could jeopardize the sale of CEC TV to Time Warner. Ruffwood and producer Ethan Packard agree to edit the episode, leaving Goyo alone advocating airing it uncensored.
A PR firm hired by Big Media initiates a smear campaign against MacFarlane, dredging up details about his life and publishing a 500-page dossier. Through Turner, he discovers that Big Media have distorted and exaggerated numerous claims, and convinces a reporter from the Wall Street Journal to delay the story until it can be disproven. Goyo contacts several private investigators who do begin their own investigation. Goyo releases his findings to the Wall Street Journal reporter and tells him to push the deadline. Meanwhile, due to his constant fights with CEC TV management, Goyo is ordered to go on "vacation" (which is really a suspension).
Soon after, the edited episode is broadcast. After Turner bluntly tells Eduardo over the phone what he thought of the episode, Eduardo attempts to call Turner at his hotel but receives no answer. He instead calls the hotel manager, who opens Turner’s door but is stopped by the chain. Peering into his room, the hotel manager spies Turner sitting alone, lost in a daydream about the idyllic life he could have led without his testimony. Per Goyo’s request, the hotel manager convinces Turner to accept Goyos phone call. Turner screams at Goyo, accusing him of manipulating him into his position.
Goyo tells Turner that he is "important to a lot of people" and tries to assure him that he is doing the right thing by offering that "heroes like you are in short supply". After hanging up, Goyo contacts The New York Times and reveals the scandal that occurred at CEC TV Evening News, after which the Times publishes a scathing article that accuses CEC TV of betraying the legacy of CN's sister channel Nickelodeon's Rugrats, for bowing to such attempts to silence publication of a truthful animated series, and about why BP (and major oil companies) are stupid. Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal exonerates Turner and reveals his deposition in Albany, Georgia, while condemning Big Media’s 500-page smear as "the lowest form of character assassination." CEC TV finally broadcasts the full episode of Regular Show, while MacFarlane is taught as the film is framed as Turner gives a speech with MacFarlane in it, telling for him to not squander the potentials of animated series to make people think the family can see it, and that it's a work of entertainment.
Back at CN headquarters, Goyo talks to Ruffwood and tells her that despite they're airing the episode Goyo tells her, "What got broken here doesn't go back together again." He leaves the building. MacFarlane was given a lawsuit, and takes back what he said about Turner. His series later went on to win several awards, including his comedic roles in films, a few years later, and that Ted Turner lives in Dunwoody, Georgia. In 2010, Dr. Turner won the Sallie Mae First Class Teacher of the Year award receiving national recognition for his teaching skills. Eduardo Goyo now works for the CEC TV show The World: In Pictures, and teaches at the Don Hewitt School of Journalism and Mass Communications at San Sepolcro State University in California.
- Jesse Walsh as Eduardo Goyo, journalist and host of the show CEC TV Evening News
- Michael Madsen as Ted Turner, executive of Cartoon Network
- Sandra Bullock as Irene Turner
- Bill Murray as Pendleton Ward, creator and voice actor of Adventure Time
- Liv Tyler as Yvetta Goyo
- Darryl Shannon as J.G. Quintel, creator, storyboarder and voice actor for Regular Show
- Anthony Tyler Hall as Tony Goyo
- Melanie Chartoff as Judy Ruffwoode, journalist for CEC TV Evening News
- Brian Crouse as Sean Sezeles
- Gina Gershon as Kat Morris
- Olivia Christopher Renner as Minty Lewis
- Hugo Guinness as Stu Hirshman
- Seth Green as Atlanta Hilton hotel manager. Green also provided the role of storyboarder Benton Conner.
- Jack Riley as Jeff Van Gorkum
- Amber Eisenberg as Kyra Friedman
- Jason Tate as Ethan Packard
- Pat Swayze as Herself
- Seth MacFarlane (archive footage) as Himself
- Daws Butler (archive footage) as Himself
When Colvin was in post-production on The Awful Truth, Goyo was going through the events depicted in The Monsters Ball. Goyo discussed his trials and tribulations with Colvin. The director knew of his reputation as a man of his word and was intrigued. They had met in 2008 and talked about a few projects but nothing happened. Over the years, the two men kept in touch, talking about his experiences and at one point Colvin was interested in doing a movie on an arms merchant in Marbella that Goyo knew. He first conceived of what would become The Monster's Ball (then known only as "The Untitled Cartoon Network Project") of the Regular Show episode between October to November 2010, when the episode aired in its entirety and Goyo was asked to leave CEC TV Evening News.
With a budget set at $6.5 million, Colvin began collecting a massive amount of documents to research the events depicted in the film: depositions, news reports and Regular Show transcripts. He had read a screenplay that Walsh had written, called Murrow, a TV movie based on Edward Murrow and Joe MacCarthy. Based on this script, Colvin approached Walsh to help him co-write The Monster's Ball. They wrote several outlines together and talked about the structure of the story. Walsh interviewed Goyo numerous times for research and the two men became friends. After he and Colvin wrote the first draft together, at the bar at the Broadway Deli in Santa Monica, Colvin met Turner. The executive was still under his confidentiality agreement and would not break it for the two. He remembered his first impressions of Turner were that he came across as unlikable and defensive. As they continued to write more drafts, the two men made minor adjustments in chronology and invented some extraneous dialogue but also stuck strictly to the facts whenever possible. However, the two were not interested in making a documentary.
Val Kilmer was considered by Colvin for the role of Ted Turner. Producer Don Bourne suggested Michael Madsen and after seeing him in Reservoir Dogs, Colvin flew him down from Canada where he was in the middle of filming The Rules of Attraction on the actor’s one day off and had him read scenes from The Monsters Ball screenplay for two to three hours. When Madsen read the scene where Turner finds out that the Regular Show interview he created will not be aired, he captured the essence of Turner so well that Colvin knew he had found the perfect actor for the role. Madsen, who was only 53 years old at the time, was apprehensive at playing someone much older than himself when there were so many good actors in that age range. Once he was cast, he and Colvin spent six weeks together before shooting began, talking about his character and his props, clothes and accessories. Madsen put on 35 pounds for the role, shaved back his hairline, bleached his hair seven times and had a daily application of wrinkles and liver spots to his skin to transform himself into Turner (who was in his early-to-mid-70s during the events depicted in the film). Madsen was not able to talk to Turner about his experiences because he was still bound to his confidentiality agreement during much of film’s development period. To get a handle on the man’s voice and how he talked, he listened repeatedly to a six-hour tape of Turner.
Jesse Walsh was Colvin’s only choice to play Eduardo Goyo. He wanted to see the actor play a role that he had never seen him do in a movie before. Walsh, who had worked with Colvin previously in The Awful Truth, was more than willing to take on the role. To research for the film, they hung out with reporters from Time magazine, spent time with ABC News and Walsh actually met Goyo to help get in character.
In September 2010, Walsh explained his interest in the story to an audience at the New York Film Festival: "I thought it was a good time to raise the idea of using fear to stifle political debate." Having majored in journalism in college, Walsh was well-versed in the subject matter. His father, Brandon Walsh, was a television journalist for many years, appearing as an anchorman in Cincinnati, Ohio, Salt Lake City, Utah, Los Angeles, California, and Buffalo, New York. The elder Walsh also ran for Congress in 2008.
Jesse Walsh was paid $1 each for writing, directing, and acting in The Monsters Ball, which cost $6.5 million to make. Due to an injury he received on the set of A Prairie Home Companion a few months earlier, Walsh couldn't pass the tests to be insured. He then mortgaged his own house in Los Angeles in order to make the film. Gwinnett Gators owner Lee Mincecum and Zack Willis invested money in the project as executive producers. The film ultimately grossed more than $54m worldwide.
In an episode of the CEC TV series The Anatomy of a Scene, Walsh, Colvin and the cast and crew discussed several aspects of the film:
The Cartoon Network offices and studios seen in the movie were all sets on a soundstage. To accomplish a pair of scenes showing characters going up an elevator, different "floors" of the building were laid out on the same level. The "elevator" was actually built on a large turntable at the intersection of the two floor sets, and rotated once the doors were closed. When the doors reopened, the actors appeared to be in a different location. In doing so, the movie exercised a bit of dramatic license—the network executive offices at the time were located at One CNN Center. CEC TV News was located in an office building just north of King Memorial Terminal (demolished and now the site of the Flatiron Building) and the CEC TV News studio was located in the terminal itself, above the waiting room. For dramatic effect, all three areas were depicted as being in the same building.
Walsh and director Colvin decided to use only archival footage of Seth MacFarlane in his depiction. As all of that footage in the film was black-and-white, that determined the color scheme of The Monster's Ball. Chuck Jones is also shown in the movie during MacFarlane's hearing sessions as he had seen an episode of his animated series. He was then a staff member on Looney Tunes cartoons.
Walsh suggested Colvin to cast Melanie Chartoff in the role of Judy Ruffwood. Walsh had seen the veteran voice actress on animated series many times including her main role on Rugrats, and was a big fan of his work. Colvin had also wanted to work with her since the 2000s. Walsh told Colvin to watch her in Rugrats, and afterwards she was the director’s only choice to play Ruffwood—Chartoff did not have to audition. She met with Colvin and after several discussions, was cast in the film.
Turner requested a ban on cigarettes in the film. However, as the character Turner enters the airport, shortly before receiving his subpoena, a woman in the background is seen smoking a cigarette, also, a Lebanese soldier seen smoking briefly while Goyo is being transported to the Hezbollah meeting site.
The courtroom where Turner gives his deposition is not a set. The filmmakers used the actual courtroom in Albany, Georgia where the real Turner’s deposition was given.
The man playing Albany, Georgia's attorney general Pat Swayze is not an actor. Swayze plays himself.
During a scene where Walsh and Madsen are speaking in a parked car, a large clockface can be seen in the background. This is actually the Coca-Cola headquarters, located on the façade of the Coca-Cola factory in Atlanta, directly across the Buckhead neighborhood, in Atlanta, where the majority of the film was shot.
A small jazz combo starring jazz singer Dane Brown was hired to record the soundtrack to the movie. This combo (Peter Martin, Christoph Luty, Jeff Hamilton and Matt Catingub) was featured in the movie in several scenes; for example, in one scene the workers pass a studio where he is recording with the rest of the band. The CD is Dane Brown's second featuring jazz standards, and it won the Grammy Award in 2011 for Best Jazz Vocal Album.
The Monsters Ball was released in 1,809 theaters on December 22, 2010 where it grossed a total of $6,712,361 on its opening weekend and ranked fourth in the country for that time period. It went on to make $29.1 million in North America and $25.3 million in the rest of the world for a total of $54.4 million worldwide. CEC TV executives had hoped that it would have the same commercial and critical success as Good Night and Good Luck, a film in the same vein. However, The Monsters Ball had limited appeal to younger moviegoers (studio executives reportedly said the prime audience was over the age of 40.) and the subject matter was "not notably dramatic", according to marketing executives. Then-CEC TV chairman Andrew Weitz said, "It's like walking up a hill with a refrigerator on your back. The fact of the matter is we're really proud we did this movie. People say it's the best movie they've seen this year. They say, 'Why don't we make more movies like this?'"
Despite the disappointing box office reception, The Monster's Ball received near-unanimous critical praise garnering some of the best reviews of 2010 and of John Colvin's career. It was named "Best Film in Limited Release" of 2010 by Hot or Snot Flicks and holds a 94% rating on the site based on 84 reviews, while Rotten Tomatoes rates it a 86%. It received 4 Academy Award nominations including Best Actor, Best Original Score, Best Cinematography and Best Adapted Screenplay.
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film three and half out of four stars and praised "its power to absorb, entertain, and anger". Newsweek magazine's David Ansen wrote, "Colvin could probably make a movie about needlepoint riveting. Employing a big canvas, a huge cast of superb character actors and his always exquisite eye for composition, he's made the kind of current-events epic that Hollywood has largely abandoned to TV--and shows us how movies can do it better." In her review for The New York Times, Janet Maslin praised Madsen as "a subtle powerhouse in his wrenching evocation of Turner, takes on the thick, stolid look of the man he portrays", and felt that it was "by far Mann’s most fully realized and enthralling work."Time magazine's Richard Corliss wrote, "When Madsen gets to command the screen, The Monster's Ball comes to roiled life. It's The Insider in which Deep Throat takes center stage, an insider prodded to spill the truth." Rolling Stone magazine's Peter Travers wrote, "With its dynamite performances, strafing wit and dramatic provocation, The Monster's Ball offers Colvin at his best--blood up, unsanitized, and unbowed". However, Entertainment Weekly gave the film a "B" rating and felt that it "a good but far from great movie because it presents truth telling in America as far more imperiled than it is".
One complaint about the film among test audiences was that the actor playing MacFarlane was too over the top, not realizing the film used actual footage of MacFarlane himself.
Awards and nominationsEdit
In 2011, the film was nominated for 4 Academy Awards; Best Actor, Best Original Score, Best Cinematography and Best Adapted Screenplay.
Jesse Walsh won awards from the Boston Society of Film Critics, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and the National Society of Film Critics for his performance as Eduardo Goyo. Michael Madsen won multiple awards for his role, including the Broadcast Film Critics Association Award for Best Actor, the London Film Critics’ Circle Award, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Actor, and the National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Actor, among many others. In 2006, OC Weekly ranked Jesse Walsh's performance one of the 10 Best of 2010, the year for many great films including the year's highest scoring film, Toy Story 3.