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20 Weeks To Oscar: The Host & The Show

Tuesday, December 6th, 2016

I feel like I have written and said this a million times. Being critical about awards is a thankless task. People are either invested in it personally or honored to be participating even if they are being embraced by peripheral charlatans or are just happy about the whole thing. Moreover, the whole thing is thick with talented people and wonderful, well-intentioned efforts.

The great thing about this myopia in years gone by is that at the center you had institutions that were immovable objects. There was plenty of complaining back in the Bruce Davis era (1989-2011). But you knew that no matter what the whether, this politburo would keep pushing forward in a very clear, very considered way.

Since then… not so much.

The current administration of the Academy, led by Dawn Hudson, seems to be single-task focused, with a profound lack of understanding about the value of the institution. It’s a thousand cuts, not a beheading. Hudson is too shrewd a politician for that. She manages up elegantly.

I can’t put everything on Ms. Hudson. She was hired to run an institution that was and is dysfunctional in both its arrogance and its insecurities about its place on the power map. She came from an organization that worked hard to establish a beachhead as a second tier power player (to Hollywood) with the cachet of a TV presence that had (and has) a wildly swinging lever of status.

As a result, Hudson has brought the “let’s just do it and we’ll worry about how it played later” attitude of a young organization to America’s most significant and historic film organization. She tore out the politburo, but the replacement didn’t take, with a lot of turnover in what should have been stable positions. She took on the museum assignment with gusto and aggression and a fearlessness about working with longstanding associates (of hers, not the Academy’s) and moved the ball forward mightily… while securing the facade of the museum long before its conceptual foundations, including a long wait and iffy choice for its top management, and expanding the budget well beyond expectations. And she has handled the evolution of the membership of the Academy as a publicity exercise, acting on choices that are of value, but are simply not as publicized.

The crown jewel of the Academy is The Oscars. All the good work the Academy does, which is rarely discussed, but of legitimate importance, is funded by the award show. And though the organization was not begun as an awards event, Oscar has become the heart of the AMPAS. It is the public image of the group and the prestige of the award that, inappropriately, defines the prestige of the group.

If you look at the numbers, you will see that the show has been in what is likely an unstoppable decline in this last decade. But what is the chicken and what is the egg? The Academy Awards are still the top non-NFL playoff/Super Bowl show in America. This year, the February ratings were uniquely overshadowed by the elections and the World Series finale. But that would have been true (except for the World Series game) even if the numbers were at a high for the last decade.

Broadly, the show does between 37 million and 44 million U.S. viewers. What determines the high and low points on these ratings? Unclear. Except, Ellen DeGeneres does draw. She did two of the four highest-rated shows in the last decade. The #1 of this last decade was in the 12 Years A Slave year, which was Zadan & Meron’s second year, had Ellen, and had Gravity seemingly driving eyeballs.

The other over-40m viewer hosts of this last decade were Martin & Baldwin (Avatar vs The Hurt Locker) and Seth MacFarlane (Argo won… no giant movie competing).

It’s hard to play The Host Game. Steve Martin hosted the second lowest-rated Oscars of the last 20 years… and two that had much better numbers. Jon Stewart’s second go at Oscar was the lowest rated of the last 20. Hugh Jackman’s year was one of the best reviewed Oscar shows… and one of the lowest rated (8th best of 10 this decade). Chris Rock did a number in 2005 that was the best since then except for the Ellen show of 2014… but then his show died last year.

I tend to believe that only Billy Crystal has been a significant factor in ratings for Oscar, because of his consistency as host. I don’t believe the host creates the rating. Every measure you could try to use gets blurry pretty fast.

Hi 30s/Low 40s seems to be the new normal for Oscar ratings. A blockbuster that has a chance of winning seems to draw. Outside of that, just put on the best show that you can and the ratings will sort themselves out. No producer or host can control them in any given year.

Oscar Ratings 1997 - 2016 651

Would it help if there was consistency from The Academy in its choices? Yes. History shows us that finding a strong host and sticking with her or him and building a TV audience the way TV audiences are built is the best shot at getting a handle on improve ratings.

Also, I would suggest that defining the show is critical. Take a big step back, away from the numbers and the reviews and the hype and ask, “What is this show about?”

Wait… I haven’t mentioned this year’s host yet…

What’s wrong with Jimmy Kimmel?

Everything. And nothing.

He is not a movie guy… Even if he has the only 11:30 show in Los Angeles.

He is not a classy guy… Even if he cleans up well in a tuxedo.

He is ABC’s guy… which denigrates the awards even if he is excellent as a host.

He just hosted the Emmys… which makes him second hand goods for the #1 award show in the world.

Then again…

Ellen DeGeneres isn’t a movie person. And she isn’t nose-in-the-air, but she isn’t a fart joker either. She killed it, in terms of ratings.

Then again…

Neil Patrick Harris is a great host. He is not a movie person, really. He goes for high-end lowbrow humor. He hosted every other show within a couple years of the Oscars. His numbers weren’t good and the show was much disliked.

Then again…

Seth MacFarlane’s show was widely despised. He went to the bottom of the comedy barrel, had hosted nothing big before and isn’t really a movie person… but his numbers were pretty damned good.

So… let’s pretend I didn’t even bring up Kimmel. Let’s go back to the bigger question.

“What is this show about?”

Part of me doesn’t want to answer this question, even for myself. I am not a member of the Academy, will not likely be one in my lifetime, and the organization needs to decide for itself what it means to be.

What I do want to express, however, is that whatever the Academy wants to be, it should be proud and open about the choice. And I don’t think the Academy is that about much of anything these days.

They did an end-run around admission rules to invite 683 new members, about half of whom would not have been seriously considered under normal circumstances. And you know… that is 100% okay with me… IF they present it as such. They might say something like, “We found that we could beef up out international position, which was very weak, and we desperately needed to shore up the percentage of women in the group, so we bent over backwards to find more than 300 new female members who would otherwise be unlikely invitees at this time and we found a lot of highly valued international members. Unfortunately, we failed to be able to find a significant number of American-based black, Latino, or Asian members of the industry to invite at this time. And this is because there is a longstanding bias in the industry of which our group is meant to be the cream of the crop. We will work diligently to push the industry to more inclusiveness, though because of the current nature of the industry, we are not sure we can reach promised 2020 goals.” Simple. Clear. Honest.

Is there a chance that Jimmy Kimmel ended up as host this year just because the process worked out that way? There is a chance. I’d put it at about 1.5%. It is much more likely that the Academy didn’t sign producers until very late in the process knowing full well that ABC required Kimmel to host this year (and likely for years to come). Did this fact keep other producers from accepting in the summer or early fall? Possibly.

Given the Academy’s management of the media, the delay seems most likely intended to push back on the conversation about the conditions of the early ABC renewal (which only happened to secure building loans for the over-budget museum). Now, coming together in December, it looks like “well, we were up against it” instead of “ABC shoved him down our golden throat.”

But putting what seems likely to be manipulation aside… what about Jimmy? Is this who the Academy sees as a top-of-the-line representative of the organization? Ricky Gervais slagging everyone off on The Golden Globes is a match made in TV heaven. He takes the edge off the sham. But the Academy… not a sham. Certainly not in the same category at all, in terms of a credible voting block.

“There’s a lot of exciting stuff going on. Congratulations to me,” Kimmel said on his show last night. “I’m hosting the Oscars and I had sex. Two things as a teenage boy I never thought would be possible.”

Funny. Kinda sweet. But is this how The Academy sees itself?

If so, good will and god bless. A night of self-deprecation it is!

That’s not how I see the Academy.

Taking a little air out of the balloon is always a pleasure. But when you become self-mocking, the brand is being damaged… at least when the brand is the 800-pound gorilla in the category. And Oscar is that.

I have nothing against Jimmy Kimmel. He succeeded through hard work and a commitment to finding his sweet spots. A winner.

But what is the Academy these days? Not honest about race. Not honest about managing older members. Finding weird little areas of the now wildly overgrown Oscar marketing season to pick on for stern new limitations while looking the other way at so many direct assaults on Academy members.

The Academy seems very intent on fixing what is right in front of its collective nose. And rarely considering decides on light of what makes the Academy the worldwide institution that it is.

I love the Academy, even from outside. I have devoted years of my life to understanding it and judging it from afar. The mess around The Oscars is not that much of a mess. It just needs a firm hand and some serious intent about reinforcing the foundations of the organization.

Ironically, AMPAS was not started with the best of intentions. It was a method of consolidating and sharing power. And for its first decades, it was run by the studios as a great marketing tool and little more. But it became something more, whether purists like it or not. And that thing it became? That is what I miss in 2016.

Weekend Estimates by Moaning Lack of Arrivals That Can’t Be Found By Klady

Sunday, December 4th, 2016

Weekend Estimates 2016-12-04 at 9.15.15 AM

How much is there to day about the dead zone?

Drops, indeed, fell into the 40s and 50s from the 50s and 60s of Friday-vs-Friday.

Worst #1 gross for a weekend in a month.

Moana still looking at over $200 million domestic. Fantastic Beasts cracks $200m domestic next weekend and will pass Doctor Strange domestically before Christmas. Arrival becomes the first Best Picture candidate to pass $100 million domestic around the same time.

Trolls is dropping, though it has a couple more clear weekends before Sing.

The choice by Universal to go out with Sing just before Christmas is a big move by the studio. The biggest December opening for animation is just $14 million by The Prince of Egypt, all the way back in 1998. The last 3 Illumination openings were over $80 million. So how will this work out? Star Wars: The Force Awakens proved last December that anything can happen when you have something the audiences really want to see. I’m guessing that Universal is not anticipating a $100m launch, but Frozen did $124 million from the equivalent Friday to 12/21 (12/20 in their case) through the end of the holiday (17 days). And that run started 5 weeks in for Frozen. So for a new film with heavy demand? Well… Minions and The Secret Life Of Pets were the #2 and #3 fastest animated films to get to $200m domestic, 9 and 10 days. This is new territory for a major animated movie, really. I am guessing that the 17-day gross will be between these 2 markers, $124 million and $200 million, which would be record breaking.

Of course, the most attention will be on the Rogue One numbers.

Jackie is easily the king of per-screen this weekend. Reporting $54,840 per on 5. Next best, $10,920 on 4 for Miss Sloane (which, btw, held rather well in exclusive).

Friday Estimates by Welcome To Post-Turkey Klady

Saturday, December 3rd, 2016

Friday Estimates  2016-12-03 at 8.29.25 AM

There are few weekends of the year that compete with the first week of December, the weekend after Thanksgiving, for futility. Last year, every film in the Holdover Top 10 dropped by 51% or more, 5 of them by 66% or more, compared to the previous Friday. There was one bright-ish note, Krampus, which opened to $6 million.

This year’s sole wide new release is not as fortunate as Krampus, but Incarnate did take advantage of the down weekend to get outsized attention for horror.

The punchline for the weekend is that the 3-day drops were 10% – 15% less than the Friday-to-Friday. Still nothing to write home about, but better than the horror show that today’s numbers appear to be. Moana, for example, is likely a $23 million weekend, a serious drop but not a shocking one.

Among movies beyond their second weekend, Arrival continues to hold best, which has to make Paramount feelgreat.

The one happy story on the board is the exclusive run of Jackie, though the fantasy number on this kind of movie is $100k per. The success that Searchlight seems to be heading for with this title is remarkable for an excellent, although certainly not mainstream film. So take a deep breath and let it play out.

The BFCA Critic’s Choice Awards Nominees

Thursday, December 1st, 2016

Fifty Categories of Film & Television Nominations 
La La Land, Arrival, Moonlight Lead The Count
Best Picture: Arrival, Fences, Hacksaw Ridge, Hell or High Water, La La Land, Lion, Loving, Manchester by the Sea, Moonlight, Sully
The BFCA Critic’s Choice Awards Nominees

20 Weeks To Oscar: The Beginning Is The End

Tuesday, November 29th, 2016

You know it’s already over, right?

No, I’m not saying we know who is going to win Oscars this year. We don’t. But we know who is realistically in the running, and who is not.

To use a sports metaphor, we are in the playoffs. But teams still have to play the games.

Upsets will happen. But only among the “top” 10% or so.

And the Independent Spirit Award nominations and the Gotham Awards and the BFCA Critics Choice Awards and the National Board of Review Awards… none of them will mean jack-excrement to what gets nominated for Oscar in six weeks.

Palm Springs and Santa Barbara? All about sweeping up the last 5% of the vote late in the game… if there is even that much sweeping to do.

Ten years ago, there were statistical regularities that could be counted on. The expansion to “as many as” 10 nominees changed all that. In the eight seasons of an expanded Best Picture field, including this season, there will have been only ONE major studio winner. Argo.

The wins went to Lionsgate/Summit twice, Weinstein twice, Searchlight twice, Open Road (!!!), and one Oscar to WB. Even including Searchlight as a studio entity (and both wins began as a Big Fox production deal), that’s only a 38% clip for the big studios.

Before the BP expansion, there was Crash in 2005. And before that, you have to go back 15 years to 1990’s Dances With Wolves and Orion Pictures to find a Best Picture winner that was not from a major or a Dependent. And from there, back to 1986 and Platoon, also from Orion. And then just keep moving backwards to a time before indies.

The expansion was revolutionary in that it allowed smaller films with smaller budgets and shorter pockets to get into Phase II (that is to say, to get nominated), where the battle is now about the actual movies, and not about elements that used to be the norm.

For instance, my most repeated stat is that The Hurt Locker, in the first expanded year, became the first film in a decade to win Best Picture without being one of the Top Two grossing nominees. And winning while being one of the least box office successful nominees was unheard of. But it won. And the Oscar winner has not been one of the top three grossers amongst nominees a single time since the expansion. That may not be a firm predictor… but it is a sea change. And exactly the kind of change that people who are high-minded about the art of cinema should be thrilled about. (Instead, most seem to want to go back to the five… because they are more into nostalgia than a broad system of rewards based on the actual movies.)

Could La La Land actually be the movie to break the current trend line? It doesn’t look like there will be a Best Picture nominee at or over $150 million. Some are predicting a La La Phenomenon, sending it to that shockingly high figure. $100m+ domestic grossers (current or projected) that have a shot at a Best Picture nod include Sully ($125m), Arrival ($63 million and going strong), and the Christmas release, Hidden Figures, which is likely to both get nominated and do big box office. Unless Rogue One or Passengers become surprise BP players, that is the entire high-grossing field. And it certainly wouldn’t be a shock to see La La Land end up as the fourth-best grossing nominee, just under the $100 million mark.

But the point is… it doesn’t much matter anymore.

In my never quite humble opinion, La La Land, Manchester By The Sea, Moonlight, Jackie, and Arrival are now sure bet BP nominees That’s five.

After that, I would bet Hidden Figures, Loving, and Fences as the likely next three. That’s eight.

But you have Silence, Lion, Sully, Hell Or High Water, and Hacksaw Ridge nipping at their heels… with the possibility that two of those five get in without knocking anyone else out.

And hell, there could be a shocker. 20th Century Women is great enough to find a strong constituency, much as I think Hell Or High Water may already have established.

But that is the entire field as we close November and The Gotham Awards tell us – GASP! – that Moonlight is a powerhouse and we have NBR tell us that – GASP! – people love Manchester. The reality is, we knew both of these things three full months ago at Telluride.

How many free lunches does it take to get to where we already are and have been for so long? And does any of that habitual dance of voter romance make any difference in a season where voters have lots of easy access and a process that so completely narrows the field before they have to seriously consider nomination choices?

Of course, one of the brilliant things about Oscar is that while everyone (paying attention) knows… nobody knows the details. Did last year’s Best Picture win in a landslide or by two votes? Same with all the other categories. There is that sense that 100 Academy votes can swing a win and certainly a nomination. So how hard do you work for those 100 votes and when does that effort become a form of insanity.

The irony of all ironies is that #OscarSoBlack this year. At least, I expect it to be. If four of the movies that I expect to make the Best Picture cut do, in fact, get there, “black movies” could be half of this year’s BP nominees. That is every bit as much an anomaly as actors of color being shut out last year. And in my opinion, not a single one of those “black movies” will have gotten there because of their racial make-up. Each has a different journey.

Moonlight is a deeply personal and intimate story, that happens to be about a black gay man, directed and adapted by a straight black man. Hidden Figures is a great little-known story, told in a very commercial way, with big pop songs and familiar, likable actresses. Loving is half-black, I guess… a lesson from history about how we treat others. And Fences is an award-winning stage work by a legendary playwright, starring two big names with strong Oscar histories.

Color is at the heart of each of these movies. But these are not movies that lean on our passion, guilt or fear of The Other. They are all, in their very different ways, about more than that. None of these films is a movie you have to vote for because it’s good medicine. There just happen to be four very strong stories from four very committed distributors with people of color in leads this season. Next year, it would be no shock if, once again, there were none. Because it’s not about The Academy. It’s about the industry. And there is only one Denzel and one Barry and one couple named Loving and one magic period fun with race movie every few years.

In the acting categories, there is a bit more fluidity, but less than you would think. one slot after Emma, Natalie, Annette, and Amy in Lead Actress. Two slots after Casey Affleck, Gosling, and Denzel in Lead Actor. One slot in Supporting Actress after Viola, Michelle, Naomi, and Nicole. And the most roomy place is Supporting Actor, with three whole slots still legitimately in play after Mahershala Ali and Jeff Bridges.

The cake is pretty much baked.

And until actual nominations land, no one will truly know how to strategize against the specific cards drawn in each category. But mostly, it will be about making a beautiful place for those who you really believe can win in a competitive race.

What will make the difference, for instance, in Best Actress? Well… the movies matter. Do the categories feel right? What are the big moments. But ask me and I will tell you a 1000 times that it is the stickiness of the performance. Two weeks after seeing the performances, what moments do you remember? Is it Natalie’s verbal gymnastics and stillness? Is it Annette’s grounded, salt-of-the-earth mom considering the changes to the world around her? Or is it Emma Stone singing “here’s to ones who dream” and taking one last look at her first true love?

We have all become very cynical about the Oscar process. And there are many reasons to be. (That was this week’s column until I found myself choking on the bile flying from my fingers.) And there are exceptions to the thought I am about to offer, but…

Academy voters vote the way most of you would vote. With their hearts and minds.

And there is nothing the consultants and publicists and the spends and free food can do about it. In the end, there are many things about The Academy that are flawed and antiquated. But it is a group of professionals who work and have worked in this business and almost every one I have ever met loves movies… like you love movies… just not necessarily the movies you love.

They will let you bribe them until the day is done. But everyone is bribing them… so no one is bribing them. The perks cannot be the standard. (That’s HFPA… and even they are so overloaded with bribes that the effect is now dubious. The group is still mostly unqualified to be taken seriously. Different issue.)

Love is the standard.

I believe that.

Of course, many of us shape the field before it really gets to the Academy voters. But not with the hysteria of the next two weeks of votes and nominations and awards. It was shaped for the groups voting this early December, too. Months ago.

The season is already over.

Long live the season.

Weekend Estimates by Turkey Hangover Klady

Sunday, November 27th, 2016

Weekend Estimates 2016-11-27 at 9.15.03 AM

Moana has a solid, if not animation-world-beating start. Fantastic Beasts holds solidly. Doctor Strange still has a mystic hold over audiences. Allied gets out of the geat slow and anticipates big international returns. Arrival has the best hold on the big board. And Bad Santa 2 gets stuck in the chimney, along with Rules Don’t Apply. Muscular exclusive runs for Lion and Miss Sloane lead arthousers while Billy Lynn suffers a per-screen roughly equivalent to one ticket per show through the weekend in an agonizing expansion.

Disney may be going light on the Sunday estimate for Moana, but it still looks like a minimum $200m domestic, $600m worldwide movie any way you slice it. It ain’t Frozen, but it will be in the upper group of Walt Disney Animation movies and the #4 animated movie of 2016, behind Finding Dory, which ultimately passed Zootopia, and #3, The Secret Life of Pets, which will be just over $875m worldwide when it’s done. It’s a testament to Disney’s marketing power in this segment that it will go so high. Released by other studios, it would easily have done half its numbers.

As noted earlier, Fantastic Beasts is fine. It got to $150 million at the same pace as Potter #3 and a day faster than Potter #2. Clearly, it doesn’t have the dramatic heat of the first Potter nor the muscle of the films that came later in the series. But there is plenty to build on.

Doctor Strange lives in a similar place as Beasts. It is an undeniable success. But it’s “only” the seventh best first film of a Marvel character to date. This is going to be a big part of the ongoing discussion of comic book and other CG-driven movies moving forward. How much is enough? Sony was happy to give up on the Amazing Spider-Man version of the franchise after two films that each grossed over $700 million worldwide. I think they will look smart, as I think Spidey 3.0 will be a much bigger franchise. But still, how much is enough for these films?

The same issue will come up for Disney with the offshoots of Star Wars, which are sure to be massive… but not nearly as massive as the core franchise. It will be a few years before there is a real baseline of box office history to judge how annual Star Wars movies ebb and flow.

When you look at 2016, it counters arguments about comic book movie exhaustion, with 5 such films in the worldwide Top 9 right now… and 3 of them being the first films for Deadpool, Doctor Strange, and Suicide Squad. The only real trouble spot in the category this year was X-Men: Apocalypse, which still managed to do $545 million. Still, Marvel seems to be anticipating this problem with significant new character cameos in Civil War. DC also got on this, to some degree, with BvS, with the arrival of Wonder Woman and an ad for Justice League (that felt like an ad). Not quite as skillful, but definitely a trend line to keep in mind.

Allied did not have a great opening, dead in the middle between Zemeckis’ last two films, The Walk and Flight. The problem for this one is that it cost a lot more than Flight. On the other hand, Brad Pitt. He is a big reason why the film is more expensive and why it still has a legit chance at $150 million worldwide or more.

Paramount had happier news with its other “A” movie, Arrival, which dropped just 8% in its third weekend. The film is already pretty much guaranteed to be in profit in theatrical (including P&A… and in simple math, not studio contract math) and could get a big boost from the award season. It’s not like an awards movie that people will need to find after they hear about nominations. It is a well-liked, reasonably commercial film that will have another call to action if award nominations (and critics groups) go as expected.

Trolls continues to roll. It’s running a little behind The Croods, which is the #1 DreamWorks Animation film in the Fox distribution era. But a success any way you cook it. Fox has both DWA movies next year and in 2018, the post-Katzenberg DreamWorks Animation show moves to Universal.

Bad Santa 2 continues the trend of old franchises that people truly love that don’t perform as long-sitting sequels. In this case, it’s been 13 years. They added Kathy Bates, but didn’t give us much of a sense of what she added or why we should come see the reunion. Just for argument, it is a movie I am the prime audience for. I was one of the first raves for the original Bad Santa, seeing it in an early screening when Miramax wasn’t quite sure what they had. I love Kathy Bates. I love the idea of the kid being the same kid, 13 years later. I have been supportive of Broad Green. And I work with the company doing publicity for the film all the time. No discussion of doing anything for the movie. One e-mail the morning after Halloween with a screening time (which I just opened for the first time). Minimal push. Maybe the movie sucks and the team figured it was a write-off and this opening is what it had coming. Maybe Broad Green is tired of losing money and and alley-ooped it, though it is their widest opening and their second best opening as a distributor. Part of me hopes it is terrible because then I won’t feel bad that an opportunity was missed.

Hacksaw Ridge is not giving away its shot. It had the second best hold of the wide releases and could well break through into the award season. I also think the international could be significant.

Rules Don’t Apply is not a happy story. Why did they launch wide? I don’t know. Into a very busy Thanksgiving holiday weekend? I don’t know. With two wonderful young leads who have no opening power (yet) and a legendary star and writer-director who hasn’t been in the market in 15 years? This is a movie that could have had a weekend not unlike Miss Sloane or Lion, a few screens, a 5-figure per-screen, and something to build on.

The only opening Warren Beatty has ever had that was over $6 million was Dick Tracy. And this romantic period piece opened wider than any film he was ever in or wrote or directed. I don’t know whether this film would have been a hit under other release methods… but it wouldn’t be getting punched in the face on Drudge, which really sucks. Doesn’t deserve that. At all.

Speaking of smaller releases with happier stories, Loving (421 screens), Moonlight (618), and Manchester By The Sea (48) are clustered together right around Rules, each with between $1.2 million and $1.7 million coming in over the weekend.

The big per-screen winners for the weekend were Lion and Miss Sloane, with $31k on 4 and $21k on 3.

And the car wreck of the weekend was Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, which is setting records for major studio futility in its second wide weekend. It’s brutal. Many bad decisions, aside from the movie itself. Ang Lee doesn’t deserve to be embarrassed like this and I suspect, because he is such a fine filmmaker and so likable, that it will quickly be forgotten (except by those who paid for it).

Friday Estimates by Klady, Mo Ana Less

Saturday, November 26th, 2016

Friday Estimates 2016-11-26 at 8.48.05 AM

Among Walt Disney Animation films, Moana is only behind Zootopia. But few big animation movies open on Thanksgiving weekend, so it’s too early to get a realistic handle on where this big wave is going. The great news for Disney is that Moana doesn’t face Sing! until December 21, and while Trolls is holding well, it’s not eating the market.

Fantastic Beasts remains a curiosity. It’s doing fine. But what is fine when you are looking for the next great franchise? It would be crazy to expect numbers matching the mature Potter and so far, it is pacing #2 and #3 pretty well. The real question for Beasts is whether it can come close to those 2&3 numbers internationally, where both early Potter films grossed over $545 million. If the film does in the 500s worldwide, it won’t be a failure, but WB will be trying to figure out how to build the franchise.

Doctor Strange is a solid B for Marvel… but that A level is awfully high for any new character to hit. Already closing in on $600m worldwide, it’s a hit in the general marketplace. But how much higher can it go?

Allied is not a hit. Domestically, at least. But the international market is Brad Pitt heaven. So don’t be surprised if this one ends up in the $250 million range worldwide.

Arrival, on the other hand, is holding strong and building with word of mouth. Paramount will get a boost of publicity with Denis Villeneuve coming to town next week and with awards and nominations almost here.

Bad Santa 2 did bad business, too.

Not a good start for Rules Don’t Apply, which probably should have tried to find an audience to build on instead of fighting the wide fight from opening day.

Solid starts for exclusives Miss Sloane and Lion.

Thankful 2016: 20 Years In

Thursday, November 24th, 2016

I suppose in a year of the potentially horrific, we should be all the more thankful for the joyous things we have in our lives.

My wife. My child. My family. My health.

This is the 20th Thankful column and I am still grateful for so much.But what a long, strange trip it has been.

I am thankful to DP/30 and the variations of it (Celebrity Conversations, Lunch with David) that have become the work that I am still invigorated by every week. Talking to people who really care about their work has, I have found, no expiration date. I learn about them, about the jobs they do, and about myself as I sit down with first-timers, repeat interviewees and that group of people with whom I have now had hours of conversation. I still get nervous for some (Jeremy Irons and James L. Brooks, most recently) and find comfort in the familiarity with others. And while it is considered underperformance by some, I am proud of the 30 million views of the show online.

While on this topic, I am very thankful for the people who come up to me in unexpected places to tell me that they appreciate what DP/30 offers them, as film students, fans or just film lovers. I never quite know what to say, except to thank them for watching. The show has, with more than 1,700 half hours and continuing weekly, become an annual diary of movie history.

I am thankful that so many interesting filmmakers seem to be emerging and finding audiences right now. Who would have guessed that Pablo Larrain would have a hit American movie as well as a beautiful reflection of Chilean history in the same year? Barry Jenkins is back in the saddle and unlikely to get out of it for a long while. Jeff Nichols also has two films this year. Lonergan. Yorgos Lanthimos. Paolo Sorrentino is back with a TV series. Amy Seimetz and Lodge Kerrigan have expanded the Soderbergh Cinematic Universe on TV. (Amy, by the way, was a schoolmate of Barry Jenkins.) Ben Younger is back after 12 years. Denis Villeneuve has been so busy making the next Blade Runner, he hasn’t been around to support his amazing Arrival. Shawn Levy has remade himself as a serious film and TV producer. Taylor Sheridan has written himself into the director’s chair. Mel Gibson is turning heads again. Bayona (as everyone seems to call him) is doing amazing work on a studio level. Amazing work still being pumped out (as expected) by Verhoeven and Chan-Wook Park. Mike Mills just gets better and better. Andrea Arnold.

I am not thankful that I am surely leaving people out who I mean to mention… but I am thankful that someone will remind me and make me feel super guilty before the weekend is over.

I am thankful to watch veteran actresses explode on the screen in their 50s and 60s, from Annette Bening to Isabelle Huppert to Sigourney Weaver to Sally Field to Meryl Streep to Kathy Bates to Susan Sarandon and on… and even when they are playing grandmas (only two in this group this year), they aren’t ever just playing the grandma. Not only are they creating something special in their work, but filmmakers are creating special roles with these movie divas in mind.

I am thankful to Denzel Washington and August Wilson and Margot Lee Shetterly and Barry Jenkins and The Lovings for keeping us from going through another season of #OscarSoWhite, which is critically important to the industry, but gets reduced to a bumper sticker conversation that leads nowhere. I suspect that next year’s Oscars will be less (ahem) colorful next year… not because Academy members are racists, but because the industry simply doesn’t make enough of the kind of movies that are Oscar-nominated with people of color in the lead. Even though nearly every movie of color is in play this year, the miracle is that so many are so good, not that there are enough to make their inclusion in the Oscar raise inevitable. It’s still only six movies. And over a hundred contenders of the lily-white variety. The industry needs to deal with this.

I thank the industry for the increasing availability of filmed content. We have never had as much to choose from. And overall, home entertainment has never been cheaper. But I fear deeply for the misguided whims of major studios looking to break down the system of windows, the classic notion of killing the goose that lays the golden egg. I have been on the bleeding edge of the evolution of delivery. I remember (and owned) the earliest VHS players. I bought illegal copies of movies that were not otherwise available as a teenager. I remember the first Blockbusters, the first format war, the first DVDs (buying gray market hardware from Japan), the launch of sell-thru DVD, the first (horrible) streaming, and the industry destruction of DVD by flooding the market and competing with itself on price. The lesson is that change comes with a combination of demand and acquiescence. This industry has no problem shooting itself in the foot. As volatile as the last 40 years has been in this industry, we are about to face the biggest transition yet. And the diamond standard will be maximizing the first-viewer opportunity… because that will be the only place where premiums will be acceptable to large numbers of buyers. And not just on IMAX screens or for special events. We have to stop thinking that all grosses are equal… they are not. There are now $70 million grossers that make more profit than $400 million grossers. Hell, there are $400 million grossers that lose money. We must find a way to keep the future in perspective and not seek short-term solutions that will undermine the long-term (which might only be five years into the future). Think of the Iraq War and the short-term emotional fix it brought America… then think of the price tag, in lives, in trillions of dollars, in unexpected consequences. It is an absurd analogy only in the count of the dead.

I am thankful for A24 and their fearlessness and also their modesty. They are the current gold standard in quality distribution. Fox Searchlight is still the one with the widest shoulders and the amazing Oscar history. Sony Classics is still the only true art division thriving inside of a corporate studio ecosystem. Weinstein is still the loudest distributor. Focus is finding itself. Roadside Attractions has made a remarkable place for itself, playing to more fields with more diversity of product than anyone (sometimes for better, sometimes not). Newcomers, from Broad Green to Europa to Bleecker Street, are making their mark and evolving. But I don’t think there are many people around this industry who aren’t surprised and amazed and fascinated by what A24 pulls off. Who else would have made The Lobster an $8.7 million hit in America after picking it up from a dying distributor and releasing it two months afterward. They weren’t just satisfied adding it to their library and making the money on home entertainment. I love films from all of these distributors every year. But right now, A24 is the one that, when they decide to go there, you have the sense that something impossible might happen. For a lover of film and the industry, that is nirvana.

I am thankful for the distributors who fill the middle lane, from Oscar-winning Open Road to STX to (this year’s B.O. winner-to-be, again) Lionsgate/Summit to, really Weinstein and Searchlight and Focus, the three of which have feet in both camps. The film industry is having growing pains, trying to figure out where it will land financially, and these companies are releasing movies that aspire to commercial success. But they also have the freedom to be daring. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. Sometimes the right films rise and sometimes not. They can’t make you love their films when you don’t, but they often pick films that studios are put off by and it turns out that you like them… you really, really like them.

As I sit here considering the industry, I am thankful for the testosterone of Disney. The mega-budget business is the most misunderstood thing in the business right now. Media swings between the arousal and hype of giant numbers and the manic depression of seeing so much of the media landscape dedicated to giant movies that are, for the most part, mediocre at best. (Of course, the irony that media is upsetting itself by obsessing on shit is beyond most.) Disney is, really, the only company doing what they do. Because Disney is the only company with so much undeniable IP. The concept will implode at some point. Every trend does. But they are not standing still either. Marvel has simply been a lot smarter than DC, which has some great IP, but less so than the, rawer, more humanist Marvel. And they have earned the benefits of their big ideas for how to do this. I don’t have to see every film that comes out of the shoot. And when a really fun one lands (like Doctor Strange), I am as thrilled for that as any other great movie surprise. (Well, not any… but…)

I am thankful that the good people at Paramount are about to have a great run of movies. And I am thankful that some of the less good people at Paramount will likely be saying goodbye in the new year. Hopeful, the powers that be with pick wisely. If there is one constant in the craziness of industry change, it is that studios’ fortunes tend to improve right after major transitions that were meant to get rid of (alleged) failures. Weird. Some of my favorite people in this town are on that lot. I will be rooting for them and their films as I also look forward to the change that will make Paramount a fully functional studio again.

I am thankful for the support of people at studios who appreciate what I have been doing all these years. And I don’t really mind those who do not. I am not hungry the way I once was. I am certainly in a more peaceful place than many of the people employed by studios. I do not fit in the simplistic formula that is in operation at many places these days. I don’t seek being an anomaly, but an anomaly I am. I am not a shiny new object, unclear about who I am or what I offer. But I am a shiny old object for those who care to pay attention. And it has been my good fortune that many do. And for that, I am thankful. Very thankful.

I am thankful for Laura Rooney, who started MCN with me and for Ray Pride, who has become my primary partner is keeping it rolling in the last number of years. And for everyone along the way who contributed a lot and a little and everything in between. There are choices I have made that have been good and others that have been bad… some for me, some for others. But I have always asked that people who participate in my little world of MCN want to be there and are doing work they want to do. And I have been self-indulgent enough to expect the same of myself. Many, large and small, have come and gone during this 15 years here. I’m thankful that I still have some choices.

I am thankful. Period. A lucky man. I am lucky that there are people upset with me because I don’t write enough anymore. I am lucky there are people watching and appreciating my interviews. I am lucky that publicists create space for my oddball product. I am lucky to have a healthy 6-year-old (6 and 99/1000ths, he’d tell you) and a wife who has put up with the nonsense of my life and work for these years.

I am thankful for being allowed to be a part of an industry I love and to have found places for myself over these last 3 decades that make me feel at home. Never too easy. But never too hard either.

Of course, I am thankful to anyone who is reading this. I believe that one should not act in the world to get the response that comes back from your acts (or words). But without you, the readers and watchers, this high-wire act would have been a messy spot on the concrete below long, long ago. I have not held up my part of the conversation with you as much as I once did… and for that, I am sorry. Still, I thank you deeply for engaging. Agree with me or not, thank you for caring enough to care, not just about me and my work, but in the big, wide conversation about movies (and TV too). We are a minority group. We are not under attack, but we are a minority of people, held together with a shared love. Life in the bubble has been good to me. And I thank you.

Weekend Estimates by Kladastic Beasts

Sunday, November 20th, 2016

Weekend Estimates 2016-11-20 at 10.28.52 AM

Fifteen years ago, this very weekend, Warner Bros unleashed Harry Potter to cast his spell upon us. A $90 million 3-day opening which led to a $318 million domestic gross and $975 million worldwide.

Five years ago, the Harry Potter saga ended. And now Fantastic Beasts and How To Find Them is here… and it didn’t open as well as any Potter film’s 3-day, which is even more disappointing considering that the the last five Potter films all opened on a Wednesday, to take advantage of the demand, but also reducing the demand for the 3-day weekend.

That said, WB went back to the original Potter strategy and came up a little softer on the launch. But this is a successful opening and a big enough sampling by real people that it is now on the movie, not the marketing, to see what heights this franchise-to-be will scale.

But if anyone is telling you this is a massive success and “hooray,” they are full of it. And if anyone is telling you this is a problem opening, they are also full of it. This is right down the middle. This opening suggests a mid-200s domestic gross and a $600m+ worldwide gross. WB would have preferred $800 million worldwide. They would have been in despair at under $500m worldwide. No one can create an instant franchise from scratch. This franchise is, for now, much like Hunger Games (except that THG was much cheaper) or Twilight. Will the audience for this film be loyal? Will the audience grow? Will it dip a bit and stabilize at a lower number? Only time will tell.

The two other newcomers, both wide-ish (over 1,500 screens, under 2,000), opened soft and will hope for redemption over the Thanksgiving weekend. Although they are next to each other on the list of weekend numbers, The Edge of Seventeen doubled the gross of Bleed For This.

The strongest hold in the Top 10 is Hacksaw Ridge, which I suspect could see a significant bump over the holiday.

Jack Reacher and The Accountant are a tale of two movies that are around $137 million worldwide right now. The former is finding most of its money overseas and the latter domestically. Unless there is more money overseas to find, Reacher is now over as a series. The Affleck will be profitable, as it was a cheaper film.

In less-wide release, two strong starts. Manchester by the Sea does $59,350 per on four, which is strong, if not overwhelming. And Nocturnal Animals, which is more of a commercial play, does $13,189 per on 37… which confuses me utterly. But the movie is a tough sell. It’s kind of a women’s movie… kind of a thriller… kind of hard-R… kind of stylish. I say, sell the hard-R and get some money rolling in. But this seems like a play at a wider berth, awards included. I fear for the long-term results of that.

Loving expands solidly to 137 screens, maintaining $6,300 per-screen. This is probably a film that will not have a successful widening until Oscar… which is a long hold from now.

Elle expanded and did okay… but not as well as it would if people really knew what was in the movie. Very hard to sell, especially while hiding the French language. But wow, what a movie! A lot of powerful emotions out there in theaters this award season… but no film would have more intense discussions afterwards at dinner than Elle.

And Moonlight, now on 650 screens, is killing it. $6.7 million is a big number for this film, pre-awards. Everyone involved should be very proud. If it gets the Oscar nominations that are expected, it will be in the teens, at least… which is a huge success for a film that embodies the spirit of everything so deeply valued by artists everywhere.

Friday Estimates by Fantastic Kladys

Saturday, November 19th, 2016

Friday Estimates 2016-11-19 at 10.31.49 AM

Weekend Estimates by Still Strange Klady

Sunday, November 13th, 2016

Weekend Estimates 2016-11-13 at 9.36.50 AM copy

Nice holds for Doctor Strange and Trolls lead the way, while a solid unspectacular opening for Arrival offers hope and Almost Christmas is almost a strong opening. Loving expands quite well to 46 screens, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk cleans up in to 2 extremely specialized theaters, and Elle scares up a crowd in 2.

Don’t know that there is much more to say than was said yesterday.

Doctor Strange is $23m behind Guardians’ 10-day. Still, excellent.

Trolls held significantly better than any of the similar openings in the last couple years. It should hit $100 million tomorrow (aka 11 days), which suggests it deserves to be put in a unique class. No animated movie in the last 5 years has grossed over $200 million domestic without opening over $55 million. Until Trolls. (Since 2012, 14 animated films that went on to over $200m domestic opened over $55 million.) The highest grosser amonsgt the under-55 crowd was The Croods, which did $187m domestic after opening to $44m. Trolls is $5.5m ahead of Croods after 10 days and held 15% better on its second weekend. $200 million seems pretty much inevitable and could really take off over Thanksgiving. It has some serious competition in December with Sing, which is also an animated jukebox musical, though I suspect that Sing is looking for the over-55 model for its launch. And there is Moana too.

Arrival is an interesting movie commercially. It’s performing really nicely for an Amy Adams movie… and a little soft for a big sci-fi thriller. And this movie is both of those things. So this number feels fine to me. I think the word-of-mouth is going to be surprisingly strong. Most people I speak to don’t really know what to expect from the film. I get that. I didn’t know either. And I can’t wait to see it a third time soon.

Almost Christmas is really a franchise sequel, seven years later, with slightly odd timing. Quite inexpensive, it should pick up a bit/hold well next week and is likely a money maker, if not a killer app.

Great holds for Hacksaw Ridge and The Accountant, two audience-first movies.

People question Tyler Perry, but Boo! A Madea Halloween is the #2 Madea movie ever. There is magic in that dress.

Loving expands to 46 screens and has a hugely impressive $11,500 per-screen, which is a lot better, in my eyes, than a $59,000 per-screen on 2 or 4. There is not a fortune in this film, but it is a solid indie with strong Oscar future.

Speaking of $59k per-screens on 2, Billy Lynn’s Halftime Walk opened in NY and LA and did a strong $59,350. The hard part now is that they have to expand. All hail efforts at art on Hollywood’s dime.

The great Elle grabbed $27,500 per on 2, which for a French-language film is impressive. Yet another film that leaves you thinking about the president-elect. Challenging. Upsetting. Brilliant movie.

Friday Estimates By Gentle Arrival Klady

Saturday, November 12th, 2016

Friday Estimates2016-11-12 at 7.53.43 AM

Even though Doctor Strange had an inevitable opening Friday-to-second Friday drop, the opening pace, right with Thor 2, started to push ahead on weekdays. And Friday showed a 42% increase on Thor 2‘s second Friday. This suggests that the final domestic number for this film could be in the high 200s or even tap 300 million.

Trolls has the rare and wonderful 0% drop. That suggests that the weekend could actually go up, as second weekend drops from opening day tend to take the biggest hits of the weekend.

Also holding well is Hacksaw Ridge. And The Accountant is finding new figures as it hits second run.

Arrival is the newbie and the box office mirrors the movie itself, which kinda sneaks up on you as it asserts its greatness. A $25 million-ish launch isn’t bad. This will be Amy Adams’ second opening as the lead, behind only Enchanted, which was Disney princess brand movie (before they officially started building that as a renewed brand). It is Denis Villeneuve’s biggest opener and will inevitably be his biggest grosser (until Blade Runner, Part Deux arrives).

Almost Christmas is not quite This Christmas, which was a hit for producer Will Packer nine years ago. But it could hold strong in the month to come, as we get to Thanksgiving and, well, almost Christmas. And the production costs were on the low side, so even starting soft, this looks like a money maker over time.

EuropaCorp is now not only producing, but distributing. Shut In is their fourth release, but they’re still looking for a hit. Miss Sloane is up next with a big performance by Jessica Chastain. Then a break until they release again in March. Luc Besson’s
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is the film with the potential to be a worldwide hit that would accelerate the distribution side. But even if this effort doesn’t work out, EuropaCorp is one of the great non-American film companies of the world and will keep on keeping on. It’s a very different idea than Relativity was, but with a similar international-first foundation.

The big exclusive release this weekend is Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. 28k per screen on two yesterday. Of course, those are the two 120-frames-per-second screens, drawing cinema obsessives who must see the new magic trick. Sony expands to 1.100-plus screens next weekend, with still only two showing in the new frame rate. That will tell the tale. I’d love to see the movie at a normal frame rate and watch the movie, not the tech.

Also strong: Elle, the great Verhoeven’s take on sex and passion and perspective.

BYOB: Ugh.

Friday, November 11th, 2016

byobriot

20W2O: Keep To Your Knitting

Wednesday, November 9th, 2016

There is a big lesson about Oscar season to be learned from this year’s presidential election race.

The opponent can do whatever they like. If you are going to win, you need to make a winning affirmative case and whip it home, no matter what the other side(s) is (are) doing.

Oscar punditry reads a lot like the months and months and months of expertise voiced on cable TV and via print/online media for 18 months leading to the November 8 absurdity of a Trump election. And the voices after the results settled in last night reminded me so much of the post-Oscar (and often, pre-Oscar) whining.

It is human nature to try to find a “why” when you think a result is wrong. It is almost always less complex than you thought. But it is also human nature to express what feels like a really smart idea and to be unwilling to let go of it, no matter how things change around that idea.

In the presidential election, the obsessive narrative was about angry, less-educated white people, often close to or overly racist and sexist, rising up against the tide of change. There were thousands of variations of it. but this was it at the core… against mexicans, muslims, women, blacks, etc.

And it was true that these people were out there and that Trump manipulated them into following him with endless lies about others and false promises about what he could do (or even try to do).

But the real story of losing this election was less nefarious. Democrats didn’t vote in big enough numbers. A full 10% of Democrats who voted for President in 2012 just didn’t show up at the polls in 2016. Over 6 million 2012 Obama voters… vanished.

And the number of votes for Obama in 2012 was down 7% (4.3 million) from the 2008 vote.

The “overwhelming support for Trump?” One million fewer people voted for Trump than did for Romney in 2012. It was downrising. So the idea that they shifted in great numbers for Trump is BS too.

But let me get back to the Oscars.

The range of voters has been between 5700 and 7400 in recent seasons (including this new one). It is a much smaller electorate. The system is a lot more complicated. There are, except for a couple of categories, never fewer than 5 competitors in the end.

Yet… it is still as utterly predictable and impossible to predict as a national election (where, to be fair, we get a lot more statistical information at the end).

Oscar writers… and studios… and consultants… are various degrees of insightful and brilliant. Taste in movies is a wild and hard to assess variable. There seem to be rules that can guide expectations of The Academy, but every year a few are smashed to bits.

Consensus has enormous power… except when it doesn’t. Hillary Clinton wasn’t behind in polling for most of the battleground states for a year… until she lost them. But she wasn’t often far ahead either. And indeed, when she lost a bunch of them, she lost by narrow margins. She ended up losing Michigan by 12,646 votes. She lost Wisconsin by 27,290 votes. She lost Pennsylvania by 67,951. Flip those three – less than 100,000 votes of over 13 million in just those states. Seven tenths of one percent. And the election goes to Clinton.

Where were those Democratic voters? Simply not voting. There are many reasons. But the simple fact… didn’t vote… lost the election.

What happens when there is a perceived upset in an Oscar race? We know even less than they know in retrospect about a political election.

But what we do know is this… some people decided to vote for someone other than Sylvester Stallone.

And we can guess about the many possible reasons why – starting with Mark Rylance owning Bridge of Spies in a truly supporting role – but we will only be guessing. But the only real answer is, not enough votes. And the perception of media that Stallone was a juggernaut that couldn’t be stopped was, simply, false. He may have lost by 1 vote or by 1000. We will never know.

And the only real answer to getting an Oscar for Stallone for Creed was… get more people to vote FOR him. It doesn’t matter what perception is. It doesn’t matter how little Rylance was in Los Angeles (normally seen as a kiss of death for a little-known contender). Rylance got votes because people wanted to vote for him. If more people wanted Stallone to win, he would have won.

Tend to your knitting.

Why do I think La La Land is still the clear front winner to WIN Best Picture. Because it is magic in all the right ways. People will be happy to vote for the film.

Does this make any of the other films that will be nominated against it inferior? No. Art competing is insane. Many of us lose perspective on the truths of this whole awards thing, but the competition is, on many levels, absurd. We know that on the day and we know that in retrospect.

Can Fences beat La La Land for Best Picture? Sure. If more people feel like they want to see it win. It won’t win in the name of political correctness. Nor will it lose for that reason. And I don’t Denzel Washington or Scott Rudin or the late great August Wilson would want to win for that reason. See the movie! It’s excellent. But people will vote how they feel.

Tend to your knitting.

You can’t bring down La La Land, anymore than you could bring down A Beautiful Mind or even The Birth of a Nation. The vast majority of voters simply aren’t vulnerable to that game. In the case of BOAN, it fell apart as an awards player long before award season started at the fall festival launch. The movie depended on the star/co-writer/director as the hero of his own story as well as the film’s… and that died when his legal history became gossip instead of history put in perspective.

Tend to YOUR knitting.

I have always felt that the mockery of Marisa Tomei’s Oscar was nasty, unfair bull. Great category that year. I would have voted for someone else, had I a vote. And there may have been a split. But let’s not forget… Tomei’s performance was GREAT. The details of her turn as Mona Lisa Vito are surely remembered by more people than any of the sensational supporting actress performances that year. Just stomping that foot alone. Who is to say that a majority didn’t simply love that comedy performance more than all the drama?

You want to win an Oscar… go get your votes… or let your performance do it by itself… or be the biggest star doing something new… or whatever. There are a hundred variations. But they all come down to a positive vote. And it is extremely rare when someone or something that isn’t really loved or respected in a way that draws votes ends up winning. Even with the crazy voting system

If Hillary Clinton’s crew tended to their knitting, she would be president-elect. While Trump was endlessly negative, he was also distinctly (albeit lying through his teeth) positive. Aside from making everyone happy and safe, what was Hillary Clinton’s big offer to America? Raising taxes on the wealthy? Tough sell. Fixing Obamacare? Critical… but unclear. Keeping America great. Love it… but not really a big offer.

Clinton was a million times more specific about her plans than Trump was. He lied and overpromised and pretended he could do and influence things that no president can. All bad. Change you absolutely can not believe in, much of it hateful. But as false and horrible as those claims were, he made real, tangible claims.

A.B.C. Always Be Closing.

Nothing in that phrase about telling the truth or being a decent human being.

Trump tended to his disgusting knitting.

There are many ways to tend to your Oscar knitting. Every season brings many variations.

If you can tell me why “I” should vote for your movie in 25 words or less, you have a real chance of winning.

Even more so, if I can tell you those 25 words back in some form… then tell them to my friends… you may be on the way to a win, my friend.

You don’t need to take votes away from any other movie or performance or job. You just need to get out your vote. All of your vote. By any reasonable means necessary. You can all the love in the world, but if those people aren’t voting, they aren’t moving your product forward where it wants to be moved.

And all that other noise? It doesn’t mean a thing if you have an Oscar in hands.

Weekend Estimates by Klady Strange

Sunday, November 6th, 2016

Weekend Estimates 2016-11-06 at 8.45.23 AM

Doctor Strange has the best November opening of any original/first-of-a-franchise aside from the first Harry Potter. It’s only the second Marvel opening in November and is almost identical to the Thor 2‘s opening. It’s also Marvel’s biggest “second shelf” launch. Trolls is a strong Dreamworks Animation opening, almost double Rise of the Guardians, their last November launch. And ironically, one of the last Fox DWA launches is their strongest. Hacksaw Ridge gets a solid start, but not overwhelming. Wouldn’t be surprised to see this one hold strong after the election.

Friday Estimates by Strange Klady

Saturday, November 5th, 2016

Friday Estimates 2016-11-05 at 9.10.04 AM

Doctor Strange delivers the fifth $30m+ opening day of 2016 and the first since Suicide Squad in August. It’s a solid opening, slightly better than the original Iron Man, which kicked off the Marvel Universe by Marvel and slightly behind Guardians. Trolls will not catch up, but will likely come just short of a $50 million launch, not quite at Disney levels, but strong for DreamWorks in recent years. Hacksaw Ridge gets off slowly.. .but will could build in middle America after the election.

20 Weeks To Oscar: The Wars Before The War

Tuesday, November 1st, 2016

I should have written a column last week… but this season is turning into a beautiful bore. And by that I mean that there is some truly wonderful, exceptional work out there and on the way out… and many categories are wide open in terms of exactly who will be nominated… but those excited fish are swimming in a very small barrel.

It really was big news, by this season’s standards, that Viola Davis moved to Supporting Actress because she had no chance to win a locked-down Top 3 in Best Actress. That’s what passes for big news this season.

Loving and Moonlight will get in or not, not on the basis of race, but by degree of intimacy and whether The Academy membership is in the mood for both or neither or one of the two.

A lot of people have worked themselves into a race lather again this season, fantasizing about movies winning awards because of some sort of political make-up sex by Academy members. Ain’t happening. First, the changes at The Academy haven’t changed it much at all. Second, there is a better chance of backlash within The Academy against last year’s embarrassing response to #OscarSoWhite than there is of voters posturing to seem politically correct. (Most likely, there will be no real response at all and 99% of Oscar voters will just vote for what they like amongst the narrow swath aggressively presented to them this month and next.)

Speaking of changes at The Academy… the year of ugliness is pretty close to over. For eight months, the leadership has tortured about 700 elder members who didn’t automatically fit their arbitrary classification for deserving to keep the “lifetime” vote they earned by getting into The Academy. After all of that drama, less than 10% of that group of about 700 will lose their voting privileges. After all, taking the vote away from people in their 80s and 90s is noble, right?

I have been profoundly offended by The Academy’s handling of this whole year of demographic drama. On the broadest level, the idea of arguing that exclusion is a legitimate route to inclusion is particularly offensive when the issue is racial rights, as Brown v Board of Education settled this as an inappropriate way of handling things over 50 years ago when the Supreme Court finally found that separate but equal was not equal at all.

But that aside, what has really enraged me is the misleading characterization of actions. The Academy is, unarguably, a reflection of The Industry. If The Academy wishes to take a leadership posture, it should start by being honest.

The Academy started by announcing a three-year-old project, 2020 (trying to come closer to real-world population demographics), as though it was brand new last January. In that announcement, they also laid out a plan to thin the organization of older white males who were the dominant demographic, claiming that a significant percentage of them didn’t deserve the lifetime voting rights that membership empowered them with upon their entry… and that this was, somehow, holding back progress. But making the false connection, a large percentage of The Academy became suspect, when only a tiny percentage deserved scrutiny. They also failed to understand that in targeting older white males, they would also be targeting older white women members.

Then they hired a highly qualified black producer and a black host for the show and allowed the celebration of last year’s films to become three hours of self-flagellation, the point of which could have been made without making it the theme of the show. Moreover, The Academy made it all about African-Americans and not about other people of color, who didn’t organize against The Academy after nominations, even taking heat for stereotyping Asians. Then… they fired the black producer after the ratings tanked.

In June, after hiring some of Hollywood’s finest publicists to consult, The Academy invited 683 new members to join. They declared this a victory, but failed to note that less than 10% of the invitees were black. And that less than 10% of invitees were Latino or Hispanic. So in their great effort, The Academy failed to invite this new group, for which traditional rules were thrown out the window, a percentage within these two major groups equal to their demographic representation in America. In other words, the voting percentages for blacks and Latinos in The Academy were worse after this mass of invitations.

The Academy made a big leap with women and with Asians. A major component of this list was the scouring of the planet for filmmakers from other countries. And while I admire pretty much everyone who was invited, the point must be made that The Academy – like the American industry – is mightily biased against world cinema, even in how The Academy manages the Foreign Language category, which makes the choices of competitors political for each country and extremely unfair to countries which produce a lot more films than other competing nations. It is the idea of the Senate without the balance of the House of Representatives.

Add to that, more white people were invited to join The Academy this summer than ever in modern Academy history.

Had The Academy said, “We need to make a major change in this organization and we have to sacrifice the voting rights of 20% of current members in order to make change and this is how we want to do it,” I would be shocked, but I would be more sympathetic. At least it would be a straight, honest argument.

And mostly, if The Academy was honest about the invitations this year, announcing that it had failed to find as many new black and Latino members in America as it would have liked because the industry just hasn’t given those groups ample opportunity, it would be have been the introduction of another important conversation, not an attempt to make the whole thing go away at any cost.

As for this Oscar season, it will be “less white” because of the movies that are in play, not because anyone found a more honorable view of race or because The Academy fixed their demographic disparity.

And by the way, #OscarSoMale will be as big a problem this season as any other. There are no female directors being seriously discussed in that category this year, even though there are a number of high-profile female-driven films in the Best Picture race. And I am pretty sure that there are no female screenwriters in serious play either, which makes it worse than last year.

This season will have “black” nominees because Denzel Washington took a classic play by a classic stage writer (August Wilson) in which he and his female lead won Tonys in 2010 and made it into a movie. And because a rising directing star decided to make a movie about the history of miscegenation. And because a young filmmaker decided to explore his own story of growing up and offered a unique vision filled with great performances and a muscular young distributor is pushing it hard. And because Fox greenlit their version of The Help and filled it will well-loved, fun, smart actresses who tell an important story and will have audiences having fun while they do it. (And let’s not forget the late, almost-great The Birth of A Nation.)

Four films, quite different, loaded with wonderful stuff, and happen to have color. Great for the industry. Great for The Academy. But no one made something change. Circumstances made this year’s change. And next year, it may well change “back.” No way of knowing from here.

The Academy could not – can not – fix the perceived problem it has without massive, unrealistic alterations to the organization. And that would require reducing the size of the organization to under 2500 members. This industry just doesn’t have enough veteran filmmakers of “Academy quality” of color or the female gender to have a group of 7000 represent them in the same demographic levels as the rest of America. That is the industry’s fault/limitation/folly/history to resolve. So I do not blame it for not fixing the problem. I only blame it for spinning the efforts they have made into falsehoods. Because then people think it has been solved and they stop trying to fix things moving forward.

And now, almost a year after this all became a national issue, a handful of members, fewer than 100 (probably fewer than 50), will lose their voting rights in their twilight years. No demographics will be noticeably changed. Nothing will become better for anyone, except the self-righteous who want to believe that change for change’s sake is progress.

Meanwhile, The Academy has not officially hired a producer for the Oscar show. As of November 1. This leads me to believe they will be forced to hire ABC’s preference – aka this year’s Emmys host – and a well-oiled production team that has nothing to do with the film industry. Maybe I will be proven wrong. I hope so. The last time they hired a host who had done other award shows recently, he bombed hosting for the first time in his career.

And so… is it time to talk movies yet?

I’m ready. I love the line-up this year.

But this has been the ugliest off-season in memory. Don’t even get me started in on the museum that is nine figures in the hole just on construction and doesn’t have the inventory to fill its walls when it eventually opens.

Next week… movies.

Weekend Estimates by Oh Those Delayed Sequels Klady

Sunday, October 30th, 2016

Weekend Estimates 2016-10-30 at 10.53.33 AM

Box office writers are forever trying to narrow things down to a trend story. I fight this. But today, it is worth discussing one trend that is very real… and has been real for decades, perhaps starting in the Home Entertainment era with Eddie & The Cruisers… II.

Cable, VHS and then DVD inspired overreach in 1989 and for a long time after. The notion was that a film would build a bigger audience in Home Entertainment and that would create a larger audience for the next in the series. Sometimes, it took. Sometimes, it didn’t. Mostly, it created an upper tier of direct-to-DVD (or Direct-to-Blockbuster in the VHS era).

In the last few years, the new revenue territory that has created the IP Era is international. The idea of finding a new and perhaps bigger audience overseas both extends the life of franchises and has inspired studios to relaunch franchises that in many cases – we are learning – were better off as good memories.

The trend line for all of this began with the Fast & The Furious series, which launched as an oversized success, then fell off domestically on 2 Fast 2 Furious but more than made up for it with an international bump. It wasn’t massive, but it meant that the overall worldwide gross was higher. So the third film experimented with going overseas (Tokyo Drift)… the domestic dropped by half, but the international remained stable (off 12%, back when domestic was seen as a big influence on foreign).

The big leap was making the fourth film, Fast and Furious. Even with the international uptick, Tokyo Drift was the worst performer of the first trio. And everything was trilogy-oriented back then. The expected choice would have been direct-to-DVD with a seriously reduced budget. But instead, they invested in getting Vin Diesel back and the film did almost as much international-only as any of the other films had done worldwide. The title also hit a new domestic high. So on to Fast Five, which more than doubled the international gross from $208m to $426m. Worldwide was $626m, making it a major franchise, on par with Bond or even better.

But international growth wasn’t done. F&F6 went up another 5% internationally. But then Furious 7 broke the billion-dollar line, the new holy grail for studio franchises. And not only did it break it, it broke it on international alone, with $1.16 billion. There was also domestic growth, but it was a side issue in comparison.

A big factor in the story is China, which in the case of F&F, went from $66 million on #6 to $390 million on #7. China, in terms of actual money coming back to studios, worth about half of what other international territories are. But that’s still about $80 million in rentals from one country outside of America. Big money in a low-margin business.

But… when all the wind-up monkeys start banging their cymbals to the same tune, it doesn’t always go so well.

This year, the chickens came home to roost on this trend. There are multiple categories of how these play out.

No Expecting Much Domestic But Hoping To Top Marketing Costs
(Succeeded With: Paddington)
Absolutely Fabulous
Bridget Jones’ Baby

Old IP Hoping That A Big Audience Is Waiting
(Succeeded With: Anchorman 2)
Zoolander 2
My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2

Variations Seeking To Do Worldwide Business Over $400 Million, 30% Domestic Or More
(Succeeded With: Fast & Furious)
Warcraft
Ben-Hur
The Huntsman: Winter’s War
Independence Day: Resurgence
Ghostbusters
Jason Bourne

Some successes, some failures. But the dangerous ground is the attempts to re-launch the more expensive titles and to hope they blow up to greater size.

Long discussion short, Inferno joins that last group. The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons are, by far, Ron Howard’s biggest grossing films and the only films of his to do over $200 million internationally. Inferno is already at $132m internationally, no matter how weak the domestic opening. Would Sony prefer that it gross more than $100m domestically? Obviously. But whatever it does here, it looks like $300m-plus worldwide, which means profits.

Of the list of “bigger” films, only Ben Hur failed to get to $100 million internationally. Still, of the six movies listed for 2016, all but three of the seven (Inferno, Jason Bourne, and Warcraft) will lose money.

So is the problem real? Yeah. Is it an infection that affects the whole film business? No.

What jumps out as the most obvious factor. Da Vinci 3 and Bourne both have movie star leads/characters intact. Huntsman dropped Snow White, ID2 lost Will Smith, Ghostbusters flipped (making it a successful Paul Feig comedy but not a successful mega-movie) and Ben-Hur counted on a director’s iconoclastic style, which sold big—once—when he had Angelina Jolie kicking ass. He didn’t have a star to open this one.

This jumps out from the casting of other big films this year. Captain America: Civil War had Iron Man as well as first-ever cameos by Ant-Man and Spider-Man, plus the premiere of Black Panther to add even more value. Suicide Squad barely had Batman… but he was in every ad.

Conversely, X-Men: Apocalypse put the box office exclusively on the shoulders of Jennifer Lawrence. Powerful shoulders, but less so in blue paint.

Then sometimes, you get a new idea with a relatively obscure character that people fall in love with… Reynolds’ Deadpool, as Downey’s Iron Man was before him. Or you get something that may seem played out, like The Jungle Book, that actually delivers something that audiences haven’t seen in this age of supposedly having seen everything.

Or… you get a movie like Warcraft in which the domestic audience just doesn’t care. And the international audience is so strong that you now only get to profit, but you wonder whether they will even bother with the domestic theatrical next time out.

Okay… that was that…

Moonlight‘s expansion is even more impressive than its four-screen/$100k+ number last weekend. $23,940 on 36 is a very impressive number. For reference, last year, Ex Machina expanded to 39 in weekend two and did $20,478… went on to gross $25 million. If Moonlight does over $20 million, people are going to soil their show biz diapers.

The other recent comparison would be The Imitation Game… but that had different variables, in terms of commerciality and as it closed in on Oscar nods, expanded to 1566 screens. Moonlight isn’t going on 1500 screens. Ever. So the $90 million fantasy is just that. But still, huge win for A24, which also made hay this year with The Witch ($25m) and the abandoned The Lobster, which got to $8.7m on a very short turnaround once they picked it up.

Only other indie in the $10k-plus arena is Jim Jarmusch’s Iggy Pop & The Stooges doc, Gimme Danger.

Friday Box Office Estimates

Saturday, October 29th, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-10-29 at 2.10.56 PM

When AT&T Met TIme-Warner

Thursday, October 27th, 2016

This one makes sense.

Not every piece of it lines up. There will be regulatory issues. But the AT&T/Time-Warner merger makes sense for both companies, as well as the public.

Until the United States government decides that the internet is a utility and must stand alone as such, we will see more of this consolidation of content and delivery systems.

Disney, Fox, Sony, and Viacom lack major co-partners that also own a delivery utility. This will change. It will probably change for Netflix at some point, too.

I have been saying for what feels like a very long time that the missing commodity in the Streaming Era is the massive studio libraries. They have been sitting there for a few years, waiting for their lasting value to be determined. And the answer is is that they are greatest long-tail bait possible.

There is a giant, insane maze of rights, both domestic and international, for all the studio libraries. But as each year passes, the tangles get a little less tangled and holding on to those streaming rights gets more and more attractive.

At the same time, a library like Disney’s, skyrockets in value for streaming… even if they are stuck in a Netflix output deal for the next 4 years. When Netflix agreed to a $350 million a year deal for Disney streaming, it was an insane amount of money. Today, you can be sure that Disney feels like it is getting royally screwed and that the value is a lot closer to a billion a year. And to Netflix, it would be worth even more than that, as they will be able to cut back on original programming by a billion or more with Disney as cover, likely building paid domestic subs by 10% or more next year when the number has now been pretty flat for over a year.

Not every studio’s library is worth a billion a year to a as-of-yet-not-built streaming business. But we are heading there… and higher.

There are already an absurd number of overpriced streaming opportunities out there. $15 a month for a narrow swath of content can’t be the future for the entire industry. Or $8 a month for TV that is otherwise free over the air. But serious competition is coming and the content companies are getting ready for that battle, slowly holding onto more rights more tightly until they launch their juggernauts.

The starting gate of all of this has Comcast holding the cable universe as a priority and AT&T focusing on satellite. Both are selling access to the web for streaming. Disney is sitting back, struggling on the TV network side, the next obvious target but without a web access company big enough to eat that company whole. And Fox, which owns the fourth and final major broadcast network, seems to want to be the aggressor, not the pursued.

I still believe that the future of post-theatrical film is subscription-driven and will allow access to nearly everything that exists. Delivery system will, in time, become irrelevant to everyone except for those making money by providing said systems. A function of utility.

A mega-company like AT&T/Time-Warner (AT&TW?) will do many things which will compete separately with other companies. I see the question less as about self-dealing than about prohibiting the big company from hiding massive amounts of content behind exclusive walls.

Of course, exclusivity is not purely a product of mergers. Most Time-Warner movies appear – at least in the first years of their lives – only on HBO/Cinemax. Disney and Sony have been in exclusive deals with STARZ/Encore for years. Paramount has been a part of EPIX. Showtime, after parent CBS broke from Paramount, has been a bit of a hodgepodge on the movie side. The studios were split up amongst the cable nets decades ago. Nothing new there… except ownership.

I do agree that this massive company will be unwieldy to manage. I wouldn’t be shocked if, in 5 years or so, the company were to split itself into 2 companies: AT&T Utilities and AT&T Entertainment. It would be a lot more complicated than this, but it would, essentially, give Time-Warner a MVPD of its own in DirecTV, much as NBC/Universal has Comcast.

Both DirecTV and Comcast are already working on the combination of “cable” and a significant streaming presence. But it’s still half-assed, especially on DirecTV. These consolidations are defensive, not aggressive. How will Comcast Cable or DirecTV’s satellite service survive in a world of streaming anything at anytime anywhere?

They can’t, as they are now. Even with control of the content companies, there are massive changes to come. MVPDs will become primarily the live and premiere window for content. Post-premiere will be accessible in multiple ways, with little control aside from possible windowing, in the hands of the content companies. Corporations love predictability over almost everything. They are not looking to create the newest volatile market.

The next great magic trick is not about consolidation or whose wire you are watching content on… it will be about how to maximize the long-tail world and how to generate big enough revenue streams in that long-tail world to sustain new content.

There will always be a hunger for whatever is next… but how much hunger for how many outlets delivering how many hours of television or theatrical-level “film” every month/year?

As I have written before, the danger of day-n-date is not that the market wouldn’t find balance between the films that work well with that distribution pattern after a period of extremes (not unlike what we are seeing in the streaming universe right now). The problem is that the process of finding balance for the distributors would likely be quite destructive for exhibitors (as we are seeing in the indie world right now), changing the foundations on which this is all built.

But this is far afield from the mergers of the moment.

The cost of leasing top-end new content was multiplying, so Netflix shifted to their original content strategy, which has actually slowed the growth in value of streamed content a bit.

Ever since Netflix created the streaming market – and make no mistake, they were the absolute first mover outside of free YouTube – the clock has been ticking on the value of selling content to Netflix (and those that have followed) being overcome by the value of content creators selling streaming content themselves.

The AT&T/Time-Warner merger is the first tipping point event. Time-Warner has been, really, more aggressive than anyone (pre-Comcast/NBC/U merger) about trying out the streaming waters. They’ve built Warner Archives, first as a DVD service and then as a streamer. They’ve bought existing online businesses, like Flixter (and Rotten Tomatoes with it), before dumping it earlier this year… not the solution. They bought into Hulu this summer, which I would imagine is someone’s next takeover target… a LOT cheaper and with less-focused leadership than Netflix.

With AT&T as a parent, I would expect that Time-Warner will sell off its 10% of Hulu and build its own “NewFlix,” putting a mixture of new and old WB library content, film and TV, into a OTT, discounted for DirecTV subscribers, but at a price comparable to Netflix for anyone who wants to subscribe.

Disney still seems to me to be the logical eventual buyer of Netflix.

And that leaves Paramount, Sony, and Fox.

Sony, through its PS3 programming, has the best shot at building their own standalone OTT distribution.

I like Fox to end up with Hulu as its OTT base.

And Paramount’s world changes massively in a re-merger with CBS, the only broadcast network with a paid OTT business in operation.

6 major OTTs at $12 a month is $72 a month, leaving roughly $30 – $48 a month for everything else.

If Comcast and AT&T are making solid revenues providing internet access, they can press that advantage and also offer a better level of service by adding (as such) cable/satellite access service as an add-on to the OTT service.

That puts a new kind of value on Charter (which bought Time Warner Cable to become the #2 internet provider in the US), Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint… as well as Google’s expanding internet access service.

I’m sure, as all these companies consolidate and experiment, that there will be an ugly few years of fighting over who gets what share of the somewhat inflexible pie. But in the end, I still see much more content, available with much more flexibility, for everyone at a price not much different than what people are spending on cable/satellite today.

Don’t fear The Merger. Everyone will always feel like they are paying too much or being left out for not being willing to pay that fare. But there is no scenario in which I see the consumer who is willing to spend within current norms getting less for their money 5 years from now… especially 10 years from now.

The threat is to the ecosystem of new original content, not to the consumer. Because the longer the tail on content, the less wide an audience focused on what is new, the fewer dollars to keep that machine going (or at least, the less motivation for content creators who are already deeply invested).