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David Poland

By David Poland

More Of Disney's Alice Mess

Disney is busy selling the notion that it won some victory by getting a deal done with Odeon in the UK to show Alice In Wonderland with a 14 week theatrical window. But it’s not quite that simple. They bought the right to experiment with a shorter window 3 times in the next 2 years, while also giving Odeon improved terms on the split of the box office gross in this shortened window.
My problem with this is that it is neither fish nor foul. Internal estimates of post-theatrical revenues are lovely and all, but what happens to Alice in June really can’t prove anything. No single movie can in a situation like this. And a window for one movie shrinking one month isn’t much of a test of anything either. There simply is no way to measure and to be confident of what is real.
The line someone dropped – and should pick up – that piracy is an issue between theatrical and DVD is just a load of crap. Piracy starts in earnest on Day One of the release of a movie. There are discs on the streets and streams on the web before the first weekend is over.
When you can show me a single person who chooses not to get a film illegally in the first 3 months of release, but then has a deep and abiding need to purchase or download an illegal copy between 12 weeks and 16 weeks, offer them up. And I will still want to quiz them about what drugs they are on.
There is only one market that waits 8 weeks before getting serious about seeing a title and then often finds itself out of luck because the theatrical run has dried up… and it happens to be the very same group that is least likely to download or buy a pirated copy of a film… and is also the least affected by “see it now” pressures… people over 50… mostly women over 50.
When a company acts the way Disney is behaving, there are only three options that I can think of: 1. They are boldly seeking out a new future, 2. They are finding ways to cover their tracks for losses they are projecting, and 3. They are reckless fools who like changing things to see what happens. Your call.
And what I expect out of Alice and the two other experiments? (Disney should pay Odeon even more for creating a structure for the future of their experimentation.) Numbers that are read completely differently by whoever believes in whichever side of the argument.
Charlie & The Chocolate Factory grossed less than 1% of its theatrical gross after Weekend 12. And that was a film with long legs in the current era. So that is a non-starter.
Having more weeks in theaters is not really the issue for exhibitors or the industry. The issue is choosing to shorten the window and everything that has followed. And that is, in my long and strongly-held opinion, suicide for this industry, taking the very real and compelling opportunity of expanding delivery systems for post-theatrical and turning into harder-to-exploit mush.
But that’s just me. (And the lesson that the industry keeps learning every time it decides that it needs dramatic changes in windows.)
And PRESS RELEASE… AMC gets manipulated for a price, as was inevitable, by Disney. Who got the better of the deal, only time will tell.
AMC Entertainment to Show “Alice In Wonderland”
Tickets on Sale Now
Kansas City, Mo. (Feb. 25, 2010) – AMC Entertainment Inc. (AMC), a leading theatrical exhibition and entertainment company, today placed for sale across its entire circuit advanced tickets to “ALICE IN WONDERLAND,” Walt Disney Studios’ upcoming motion picture.
“ALICE looks terrific, and it promises to be the next 3D blockbuster. It is sure to please our guests – many of whom have called and emailed – and help us maintain box office momentum in 2010,” said Gerry Lopez, CEO and president of AMC. “As business models evolve for exhibitors as well as distributors such as Disney, it makes sense to focus on the many opportunities we have to improve our economics, so we can continue to invest in technology our guests want and ultimately, the guest experience in our theatres.”

22 Responses to “More Of Disney's Alice Mess”

  1. Wrecktum says:

    It’s a Bob Iger thing. I don’t think Iger cares if he’s leaving money on the table. He considers it the cost of doing business. What that business is is anyone’s guess but his.

  2. EthanG says:

    DP it’s not piracy that starts after day 1 of a major release, it’s DVD piracy, specifically Region 5 piracy.
    Region 5 DVD’s are copies made with a TC machine from an analog source. They do this in Region 5 (Russia, India and Africa) in order to make DVD’s cheaper over there. Unfortunately, because they are produced at the same time as screeners, usually a few weeks after a film is out of theatres, there is a high degree of piracy.
    There are only so many people who will watch a cam-quality copy of a pirated film. There’s no way to measure it of course, but Id wager at least 50% engaged in piracy do so through R5 DVD’s.
    The only way to stop this piracy is to stop using telecine for R5 Dvd’s, or narrowing the window.

  3. EthanG says:

    First paragraph meant to say: while cam and telesync piracy starts after Day 1 of a release, much doesn’t occur until exiting theatrical release.

  4. LYT says:

    In related news, after critics rsvp’ed to the LA Alice screening, we got told a few days later that suddenly, guests were not allowed.

  5. David Poland says:

    Don’t feel too bad, Luke… I wasn’t even invited to that as no one at Disney seems to be able to figure out who in publicity is responsible for me at the studio now.

  6. I had to turn down my non-guest Alice screening, as it’s one of the few that my wife actually wants to see. Oh well, it’s soon enough before the theatrical release that we might as well just wait and see it like regular moviegoers (I find myself doing that more and more as the screenings get closer to theatrical release).

  7. a_loco says:

    DP, as someone who actually downloads movies on occasion (I know), I can tell you that most students and young people wait until the DVD release to download a movie. I’m not sure about Ethan’s R5 stuff, but on most of the mainstream torrent sites, you really can’t get a good quality download until after the DVD release (unless there are screeners out there).

  8. scooterzz says:

    are you guys talking about last thursday’s ‘alice’ screening?…. i ask because, when i called my rep to ask if i could bring my other half, i was told it was absolutely no problem…. and, at the screening, there seemed to be many, many family groups among the hoi polloi ….

  9. EthanG says:

    @a_loco…hope I don’t get in trouble for saying this, but there are already DVD quality copies of “Edge of Darkness” “Daybreakers” and “Book of Eli” on the web because of region 5.
    Another big problem is screeners in general. The most widely circulated copy of “Precious” online is an Independent Spirit award official screener.
    I personally would never consider watching a camera quality copy of a movie…and think people who do are nuts. But boy is it tempting when you have perfect (or nearly so) copies of movies out there weeks before DVD due to screeners and R5. And that’s where the window comes into play…

  10. David Poland says:

    On the other hand, piracy is really a bullshit argument in this regard anyway.
    Yes, piracy is real.
    No, it has almost nothing to do with reduced sell-thru DVD revenue.
    And if the problem is with the system, breaking the system to fix it is not a viable choice.

  11. EthanG says:

    I somewhat disagree. I think DOMESTICALLY it can really hurt DVD sales. It’s hard to prove but “Taken” leaked months before it was even in theatres…and we all know about “Wolverine.”
    Wolverine’s DVD sales to date domestically are off well over 50% from X3. Maybe because Wolverine sucked? But so did X3….
    Taken, meanwhile only outperformed “Tinkerbell 2″ by a little bit on the DVD market. The fact its been available online for literally YEARS underlines it.

  12. EthanG says:

    *On the X3/Wolverine DVD sales meant 40% not 50. Box office wise the difference was 24% domestically.

  13. a_loco says:

    Taken was released on DVD in France before it came out in the States, but you probably know that already.

  14. Nope, it was a screening next week.

  15. LexG says:

    Do Anne and Mia paint each other’s toes in 3D?
    I’d pay a THOUSAND DOLLARS to see that.
    TWO HOT-ASS CHICKS, LOOOOOVE Hathaway and Mia is ONE TO WATCH. Not a Burton fan but if they share screen time there will be BOWING.

  16. Joe Leydon says:

    I actually hope Alice is a massive hit, so that Mia Wasikowska becomes an enormous star — and thousands and thousands of her new fans will want to check out her work in That Evening Sun.

  17. If they really cared about screeners getting pirated, they would secretly watermark them. End of story. Instead they throw that stupid “property of” logo up on there and ruin it for critics. How hard is it to watermark it with a number for the group you’re sending it to? For instance…
    I’m in the online film critics society. For all the screeners they send to us, they mark the film with a number or sign specific to our group somewhere within the film. If a DVD gets downloaded to a torrent site and it turns out it’s from the OFCS, they issue a warning and if it happens again, that group gets no more screeners.
    If they want to leave it up to “us” to police embargo breaks, leave it up to us to police something that truly affects the business.
    I also agree torrents don’t affect DVD sales- IF the DVD has really cool stuff with it. Diehard film fans still like to support and be a part of the film experience. I also think many of them pay to see a movie then DL it later to watch it repeatedly.

  18. Wrecktum says:

    So one “property of” burn in ruins it for you? If you cared so much about presentation, you’d go to the theater. Can’t go to the theater? Then your FREE screener with one burn in should suffice.
    Honestly, there are people out there who’d cut off their left ball to be able to get free screeners of movies. “Ruin it.” That’s rich.
    By the way, individually watermarking critic screeners is enormously expensive. Maybe you’d be willing to pay for the additional cost per disc?

  19. I’m just saying that if I’m expected to enjoy a movie, there shouldn’t be a non-sensical PROPERTY OF _____________________ across the middle of the screen through the entire movie. I don’t really care when they fade in at the bottom of the screen now and again, but many now are just plastered up there throughout the duration.
    If it served a purpose or helped deter piracy, I would suck it up. But do you think a filmmaker wants that there? It ruins the movie completely. Also- I don’t live close enough to a city that shows all the movies I want to see. If I’m sent a screener in order to review, shouldn’t it be in the best possible viewing condition? Trust me, if I lived in NY or LA, I’d see everything in the theater.
    And you say individual watermarking is expensive; is it as expensive as the millions studios are losing due to piracy? If you caught a major outlet pirating stuff couldn’t suing them help pay for the cost of watermarking? Seems like a decent use of money, certainly better than flying out fanboys to slather all over your production.

  20. The Big Perm says:

    All watermarking would do is show the general source of the pirated material…so no, that wouldn’t hurt pirates at all. Especially since now a lot of general piracy is someone ripping a DVD or whatever and putting it on the internet for free.
    Of course putting up words on the screen isn’t going to do anything either, like if you put up “Property of Warner Bros” some guys is going to be like “uh oh, I’d better not watch this one, a studio owns it!”

  21. This all reminds me….fellow critics and bloggers: WE MUST DESTROY OUR OSCAR SCREENERS BY MONDAY!!
    As the 10 levels of clicking “YES” to prove you understand as well as the notes on the DVD cover and the emails indicate, we must destroy them since final Oscar voting is March 2. Busy weekend ahead for those we haven’t seen…

  22. Dr Wally says:

    It’s not like a 14 week window is anything like earth-shattering for a modern blockbuster.
    Angels & Demons was rushed to DVD/Blu after 13 weeks in Europe to coincide with the new Dan Brown novel. Not so much of a shrug from theaters.
    Poseidon? 13 weeks in the US. No boycott there.
    Charlie & the Chocolate Factory? 15 weeks.
    The Incredible Hulk? 15 weeks.
    You Don’t Mess with the Zohan? 15 weeks.
    2012? 15 weeks.
    Wasn’t an issue for any of the above, and most of those movies grossed more (at least internationally) than Alice will .Why is Alice being singled out? What else is going on here?

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This is probably going to sound petty, but Martin Scorsese insisting that critics see his film in theaters even though it’s going straight to Netflix and then not screening it in most American cities was a watershed moment for me in this theatrical versus streaming debate.

I completely respect when a filmmaker insists that their movie is meant to be seen in the theater, but the thing is, you got to actually make it possible to see it in the theater. Some movies may be too small for that, and that’s totally OK.

When your movie is largely financed by a streaming service and is going to appear on that streaming service instantly, I don’t really see the point of pretending that it’s a theatrical film. It just seems like we are needlessly indulging some kind of personal fantasy.

I don’t think that making a feature film length production that is going to go straight to a video platform is some sort of “step down.“ I really don’t. Theatrical exhibition as we know it is dying off anyway, for a variety of reasons.

I should clarify myself because this thread is already being misconstrued — I’m talking about how the movie is screened in advance. If it’s going straight to Netflix, why the ritual of demanding people see it in the theater?

There used to be a category that everyone recognized called “TV movie” or “made for television movie” and even though a lot of filmmakers considered that déclassé, it seems to me that probably 90% of feature films fit that description now.

Atlantis has mostly sunk into the ocean, only a few tower spires remain above the waterline, and I’m increasingly at peace with that, because it seems to be what the industry and much of the audience wants. We live in an age of convenience and information control.

Only a very elite group of filmmakers is still allowed to make movies “for theaters“ and actually have them seen and judged that way on a wide scale. Even platform releasing seems to be somewhat endangered. It can’t be fought. It has to be accepted.

9. Addendum: I’ve been informed that it wasn’t Scorsese who requested that the Bob Dylan documentary only be screened for critics in theaters, but a Netflix representative indicated the opposite to me, so I just don’t know what to believe.

It’s actually OK if your film is not eligible for an Oscar — we have a thing called the Emmys. A lot of this anxiety is just a holdover from the days when television was considered culturally inferior to theatrical feature films. Everybody needs to just get over it.

In another 10 to 20 years they’re probably going to merge the Emmys in the Oscars into one program anyway, maybe they’ll call it the Contentys.

“One of the fun things about seeing the new Quentin Tarantino film three months early in Cannes (did I mention this?) is that I know exactly why it’s going to make some people furious, and thus I have time to steel myself for the takes.

Back in July 2017, when it was revealed that Tarantino’s next project was connected to the Manson Family murders, it was condemned in some quarters as an insulting and exploitative stunt. We usually require at least a fig-leaf of compassion for the victims in true-crime adaptations, and even Tarantino partisans like myself – I don’t think he’s made a bad film yet – found ourselves wondering how he might square his more outré stylistic impulses with the depiction of a real mass murder in which five people and one unborn child lost their lives.

After all, it’s one thing to slice off with gusto a fictional policeman’s ear; it’s quite another to linger over the gory details of a massacre that took place within living memory, and which still carries a dread historical significance.

In her essay The White Album, Joan Didion wrote: “Many people I know in Los Angeles believe that the Sixties ended abruptly on August 9, 1969, ended at the exact moment when word of the murders on Cielo Drive traveled like brushfire through the community, and in a sense this is true.”

Early in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, as Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt’s characters drive up the hill towards Leo’s bachelor pad, the camera cranes up gently to reveal a street sign: Cielo Drive. Tarantino understands how charged that name is; he can hear the Molotov cocktails clinking as he shoulders the crate.

As you may have read in the reviews from Cannes, much of the film is taken up with following DiCaprio and Pitt’s characters – a fading TV actor and his long-serving stunt double – as they amusingly go about their lives in Los Angeles, while Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate is a relatively minor presence. But the spectre of the murders is just over the horizon, and when the night of the 9th finally arrives, you feel the mood in the cinema shift.

No spoilers whatsoever about what transpires on screen. But in the audience, as it became clear how Tarantino was going to handle this extraordinarily loaded moment, the room soured and split, like a pan of cream left too long on the hob. I craned in, amazed, but felt the person beside me recoil in either dismay or disgust.

Two weeks on, I’m convinced that the scene is the boldest and most graphically violent of Tarantino’s career – I had to shield my eyes at one point, found myself involuntarily groaning “oh no” at another – and a dead cert for the most controversial. People will be outraged by it, and with good reason. But in a strange and brilliant way, it takes Didion’s death-of-the-Sixties observation and pushes it through a hellfire-hot catharsis.

Hollywood summoned up this horror, the film seems to be saying, and now it’s Hollywood’s turn to exorcise it. I can’t wait until the release in August, when we can finally talk about why.

~ Robbie Collin