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David Poland

By David Poland poland@moviecitynews.com

Taking On Fox… But Where's The Beef?

Well… I guess it‘s something to write about…
What is Patrick Goldstein’s problem with Fox?
Has Tom Rothman been refusing to buy him lunch?
If Goldstein or anyone else wants to take on a studio and how it behaves, please, have at it! But be fair in how you use your stats… or you are not doing the job.
Goldstein uses the most petty journalist trick in the book, selective box office information. He writes;
“This summer has been different. Without a true tentpole film, the results have been dispiriting. The studio’s biggest hit was “What Happens in Vegas,” a forgettable comedy that grossed $80 million in the U.S. and roughly $215 million around the world. “The Happening,” a poorly reviewed thriller from M. Night Shyamalan, topped out at $64 million (though it’s performed better overseas).”
Problems?
1) However forgettable What Happens In Vegas is, it is the #2 comedy of the year so far worldwide, behind only Sex & The City, with a reported $209 million to date. As a point of reference, only one Judd Apatow movie (written, directed, or produced) has EVER matched or beaten the WHIV number – Knocked Up – and then, by only $11 million. The #2 Apatow movie is $30 million behind.
I had no idea how very real the success of WHIV was… and if Patrick had his way, you wouldn’t either. Even offering the number, he chooses not to offer the perspective.
2) Worse, Patrick smacks The Happening without mentioning the worldwide number… only admitting “it’s performed better overseas.” Yeah… about $145 million worldwide so far.
3) Likewise, there is the “summer only game,” which eliminates a relative bomb in America, Jumper, which is a $222 million worldwide hit, and allows him to overlook Fox’s animation strategy, which is to release in March, not the summer, which led to a $295 worldwide gross for Horton Hears A Who.
4) Finally, is Patrick really selling that idea that a studio MUST make a summer tentpole – a dead concept still used all the time by old media – to be doing the right thing? Would a smash hit like The Day After Tomorrow, a truly horrible movie in any season that made huge bank before audiences realized they were buying a pig in a poke, have made this summer a success in Patrick’s mind?
No. I don’t think so.
See… what Fox is supposed to do is to turn it all over to producers with deals and directing talent that has minds of their own. Why? Could it be that the people who whisper loudest in Patrick’s ears are the people who benefit from this idea… an idea that died first at Fox, but which every studio in town is following?
And again, Patrick plays the dating game to manipulate his point, even within the confines of his own story. He writes;
“Here’re the people who directed the studio’s 2007 summer films: James Wan, Tom Brady, David Silverman, Len Wiseman, Tim Story and Carlos Fresnadillo. I bet some of them are genuinely nice guys, but there’s not a Warren Beatty or Tim Burton in the bunch.”
Wait… weren’t we talking about the summer of 2008? The three $100 million-plus films of 2007 are the same as the no-$100 million summer of 2008? But I thought… uh… well…
And does Goldstein realize that his slap at Silverman is a slap at the guy that co-directed Monsters, Inc? Not good enough?
Is Brett Ratner – who cherry-picked the X3 job from a relieved Matthew Vaughn and went tens of millions over budget, but delivered the film in time for a pre-Superman release – really the standard bearer for good behavior while working for a studio?
He throws Forrest Whittaker’s Hope Floats into the mix because, what?, he won an Oscar for acting years later? It’s not like it was a great movie or a box office smash. And no mention of First Daughter. Not to mention Whittaker’s inability to make things work with Bill Cosby, back-burnering Fat Albert, an eventual minor hit for the studio as directed by Joel Frickin’ Zwick, for a couple of years.
And who is working for Fox after this summer? The masterful B13 director, Pierre Morel, does his second feature for Fox. Gil Kenan has jumped into a live-action film with his sophomore effort after the excellent Monster House. Wes Anderson is doing a cartoon. They have John Singleton aboard. Baz Luhrmann is back. The Chris Wedge team is back again. And of course, Jim Cameron is coming back.
Plus, the studio hired the art-house director of Tsotsi (and unfortunately, Rendition), Gavin Hood, to handle their Wolverine franchise, much as they tried to hire Vaughn (the production dates did his involvement in), much as Bill Mechanic hired Bryan Singer for X-Men, who they chaperoned to two successes, which led directly to Christopher Nolan being hired for the Batman franchise at WB.
Boo on them! Hacks! Fools!
Are these hires Beatty or Burton or Altman?
Well, Beatty hasn’t directed a film since… and he acted in one, Town & Country, which is one of the three biggest money losers in the history of the industry.
Boo on them! Hacks! Fools!
And Burton, who I do think is brilliant, was an absolute mess on Planet of the Apes, went way over budget and schedule, and was at the low point of his personal issues that affected his career. Meanwhile, he continues to work almost exclusively at WB, where he has done 8 of his 13 films. (The ninth, Sweeney Todd, was co-funded by WB, which has the overseas distribution.)
Boo on them! Hacks! Fools!
And seriously… John Lesher was all Beatty and Burton and Altman types at Vantage and lost over $100 million in less than 2 years. Is that what Patrick wants?
“I say the cruel summer numbers are also the result of a rigidly constructed system that has driven away nearly all of the creative filmmakers and producers who once worked on the lot, putting the studio’s movies in the hands of hacks, newcomers and nonentities who largely execute the wishes of the Fox production team led by studio Co-Chairmen Tom Rothman and Jim Gianopulos.”
Then how did all those years of success happen? And what will you say if they have a billion dollar year next year?
So….
What would I say is a reasonable position?
I would say that the idea that the Fox bad habit under the R&G regime, which is absolutely real, of working with mediocre directors who are willing to work under the hardly pressed thumb of management, does come home to roost now and again.
Tim Story, Rob Bowman, Raja Gosnell, John Whitesell, Andy Tennant are all in that group. Some of them have had some big hits. And that is what is difficult about arguing the choices that any studio makes about the level of talent with whom they work.
I would say that Fox has made some very bad calls about restricting some of the real talent they have had in place, like Ridley Scott and the release cut of Kingdom of Heaven… but that would require making an accusation not based on popular belief.
Was Kevin Reynolds’ teen version of Tristan & Isolde a worthy attempt at something interesting or a child strangled at birth?
Could they have picked a more difficult genius director to work with than Doug Liman… twice?
Are these the same dream killers who backed Sasha Baron Cohen all the way on Borat?
Where do you put Shawn Levy in all of this? Does anyone really think he is a quality director? But can anyone deny he is a cash machine and that Fox is his home studio?
I like Tom Rothman. But then again, I have never gotten spittle all over me from the screaming.
But you can make the argument when any studio head is having a down year that their style has become a problem. Every one of the people in that job has vulnerable points, even the mostly-liked Dick Cook, who has lived with accusations of being too much of a company man when Disney’s had down years.
With Fox and Rothman and Jim G, I look back at their last down year, 2003. They couldn’t get the Peter Weir movie, Master & Commander, over $100 million, even with an Oscar nod. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was weak in the US, but made up for it overseas (almost double domestic). Just Married was horrible, but made money. Peyton Reed’s ambitious effort with Down With Love went down in flames. Phone Booth numbers weren’t over whelming, but it was a strong money maker and established Colin Farrell’s box office potential as an above-the-title name. And there were classic image disasters like From Justin to Kelly and genre experiments Chasing Papi and Wrong Turn… but all were cheap.
A rough year… over 30% down from the year before and the next year would be more than 30% up.
But from that year, they got an Oscar nod… as they may this year with Australia (and don’t let anyone tell you that Baz is an easy ride for a studio). They extended the X-Men franchise more effectively than anyone expected (and yes, Rothman’s chase for the Memorial Day slot for X3 cost a lot… and they did, as it worked out, beat Singer’s Superman by $70 million worldwide), as they may this year with Wolverine. And they got Shawn Levy in place, who will pay off again this year with Museum II.
And as I indicated earlier… things got a lot better again the next year.
You could argue that it is time for Peter Rice, who is much smoother than Rothman, to take over… an argument that will turn Rice green if you suggest its inevitability. When he someday gets the job, he will be ready for the job. But part of why that works is that he is loyal to his current bosses and unflinching in sharing the credit. He is probably the next truly great studio chief and I look forward to his ascension.
But these August cheap shots that guys like Patrick love to take… they don’t hold up. If the year to come doesn’t lead to a domestic number of more than $1 billion, averaging $100 a releases over 10 releases, you can start saying, “This has been going on for years now… they took a strong shot this year and they failed.” Truth is, the two holiday powerhouses made 2007 look better than it had looked as well.
But if you want to make the argument, don’t back it up with the kind of off-the-cuff attacks that people throw around over – yes – lunch. It’s not news or even thoughtful opinion… it’s just gossip.

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