Author Archive

BYOB: Super Bowl 50…

Sunday, February 7th, 2016

A selection of ads that are coming… don’t watch if you don’t want them spoiled. Use the space to discuss whatever…

Meet Kadar Prince…

Conceived on acid…

Weekend Estimates by Carolina by 12 On A Late Pick 6 Klady

Sunday, February 7th, 2016

Weekend Estimates 2016-02-07 at 9.24.29 AM

There is not much here to chew on.

Only two films are estimated to do over $5350 per screen and those films are on just four screens each (and still not reaching $10k per).

There are 5 Best Picture nominees still charting, but every one of them is in the downslope of their runs, on fewer screens than at their peak. The two December releases have done their best since being nominated and The Revenant will pass Mad Max: Fury Road at the domestic box office as the voting starts on Friday and may end up with a higher gross worldwide, but nothing exciting is happening on that front. There would have to be a major upset for a Best Picture win to squeeze more than $15m – $20m out of any of these movies. Of course, that would make a big difference to Spotlight‘s bottom line… almost none to Revenant.

The movie year so far has been soft, but not horrible. A lot of explaining why these movies have done okay… but not great. We’ve had 8 releases from the majors and their Dependents so far in 2016 and the results are consistently mediocre. The big indies have done the same… if not a little worse. The two leading films are sequels, both well off the franchise pace.

Can we blame Star Wars? No. It’s brought in great money since January 10/Weekend 3, but not disruptive money. They were in no one’s way. Star Wars brought summer box office to December… including the shorter window. (And for the record, nothing has been in Star Wars‘ way either.) At this point in their runs, Star Wars has about $20m left in the domestic tank, while Avatar, which started much more slowly, had about $120m left to add. In fact, Avatar‘s weekends were wildly behind Star Wars: The Force Awakens in the first 3 weekends and Avatar has had better weekends since, more so each next weekend. (This weekend, #8, $6.8m SW/$22.9m Av)

This is not meant to diminish Star Wars‘ breathtaking success. It is meant to point out how the effort to front-load grosses has evolved at light speed.

Like I said… looking around for something to eat at this table. Thin pickings. Happy Super Bowl!

Friday Estimates by RePo Klady

Saturday, February 6th, 2016

Friday Estimates 2016-02-06 at 10.47.21 AM

It’s Super Bowl Weekend and the 3-day numbers will be hurt… on Sunday. But that’s no excuse for a poor showing Friday or today.

That said, what a Poo Show… or it’s a Po show, if you prefer.

19% off the 2nd Friday of Panda 2 and 35% the total gross after 8 days. $105 – $115m domestic total. Mr. Peabody & Sherman numbers. You may remember how dramatic things got after that film didn’t fly.

You may wonder why DreamWorks tried the January launch that is certainly helping to sink this franchise. Fourteen more animated movies from the major studios (inc Universal’s Focus division) this year. FOURTEEN. 2 in March. 1 in April (which was probably the most vulnerable slot). Angry Birds in May, Pixar sequel in June, 2 in July (Universal and Fox’s next Ice Age), 2 in August, 2 in September, 2 in November (inc DWA’s) and 1 in December.

Hail, Caesar!, the 17th Coen Bros film, is just their 6th opening on over 1000 screens. And it should be noted that only two Coen film that grossed over $25m domestic was a platform release (O’ Brother & No Country). So, you can understand the angle that Universal is taking. That said, the opening, which will probably land between $10m and $11m, will be their worst opening on over 1500 screens, including The Ladykillers. The comp that seems to fit best is another Universal/Coens release with Clooney, Intolerably Cruelty, which did $35 million in October 2003.

Pride & Prejudice & Zombies couldn’t overcome the general disinterest in seeing young women in petticoats kill zombies. If there is more to the movie, no one told potential audiences.

Excluding Voters: A Closer Look At One New Oscar Rule (#1 of ?)

Monday, February 1st, 2016

Ten days ago, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences offered a menu of measures with the avowed goal of accelerating diversity in the organization. We should applaud the effort. But one of the rules strikes me as more likely to be unfair to current membership than it to create a more diverse, unbiased organization.

The plan to strip some members of their right to vote is loaded with unclear goals and genuine questions of basic fairness, regardless of whether people of color and women have suffered institutional bias from the Academy across the decades. If there is no intent to hold basic ideas of what is fair within this organization to bear, what is the point of this effort?

Also, by attaching the removal of voting rights to the idea of equality, The Academy misguided the world. There is no mandatory cap to the size of Academy membership.

If The Academy needs to strip votes from current lifetime members in order to get the numbers to seem more like “the real world”—even with an unlimited freedom to bring in more people of color and women by leadership fiat—then, as has been pointed out, there is an obvious industry problem greater than the number of members who are being expected to sacrifice their established rights, without complaint, for a higher good.

Yes, you can say that any white male member who leaves pushes the percentage towards marginally greater diversity. But at what cost? From anecdotal historical evidence, few members are as out of touch as hype-sters would have you believe.

But I am going to stop arguing about why this is so wrong.

I have been looking for objective data since this began. Of course, The Academy likes secrecy. They could crunch numbers and make them public if they wanted to demonstrate a case in a constructive way. But they have chosen, even as they have made some good choices, to spin rather than respond to serious questions that these actions raise.

I got my hands on a copy of the 2015 membership list of the Academy Writers Branch. So I started to crunch numbers, member by member, credit by credit.

There will be some imperfections. I do not have a list of those members who have already made the choice to give up their vote in exchange for not paying dues. One membership count that I have seen was 392. My list is 429 deep (not including two branch members who passed away this last year). If you see something that looks wrong, I will be happy to research the issue and correct.

It is also worth noting that vague elements of this new rule could make my analysis incorrect. For instance, what is “Active In The Film Industry?” Does development count? Do films that end up being released on TV or on DVD/streaming-only count? What is the cut off for 2006 work? If you work over 30 years, but the decade in the middle has no credits, does it count towards the “three-decade” rule? Someone threatened might suddenly get a project going, etc.

I expect to run similar analysis of other branches in the weeks to come. Please feel free to contribute your branch’s membership list to the effort if you are interested. I would never ask this of anyone under any other circumstance. I don’t believe that media outlets should have these lists… because they will used almost exclusively to solicit members for no purpose other than generating revenues. Not my interest. I just want to be able to produce objective analysis.

Again… The Academy could crunch these numbers a lot faster and with greater complexity than me, doing in days what will take me weeks or months. But have you heard any supporting stats from The Academy on this? No. Why? You tell me.

I am not going to call out the “safe” members who I think are suspect. One, for instance, was invited into The Academy 6 years after their last produced film credit. I assume this was under 2020. I am not here to tear down 2020. But when 2020 is attached to the removal of other members, it becomes something less hopeful and celebratory. It becomes part of an exclusionary process.

Now to the branch analysis…

The Writers branch membership broke cleanly into four groupings, as laid out by The Academy in its explanation of the new rule.

105 members have been nominated for, or won Oscars, and are either working now or have had credits in the most recent decade. These are the unassailable members.

124 members have been nominated or won, but have not worked on produced films in the last 10 years.

116 members are working or have worked in the industry in the last 10 years, but have never been nominated.

The last group of 82 are the ones under threat from this new rule.

26 of these members fit under what The Academy has defined as an exception to the rule of working currently. These members have credits in three separate decades, but have not been credited for produced films in over a decade. These members are no longer under threat.

Two members’ histories are too unclear to make a call about what category to place them are in. I don’t have the needed details.

This leaves 54 members under threat of losing the vote.

Some of these members may, I should remind, be saved by projects that didn’t get made, but were legitimately in process in other decades. It is impossible to say what The Academy will hold as their standard. (Rumors are that there is already a plan a foot to investigate every never-nominated member for a more subjective set of qualifications… but this is a rumor. The idea of The Academy investigating members is well past scary and inappropriate.) They could also appeal to their branch leadership and keep their vote that way.

There are very few cases of members who have gotten in by what seems to be a reach. The Academy is a country club of industry success. It always has been. And it always will be. That, like it or not, is it’s power… and why so many want to feel included as part of this particular group.

There is only one member of this group of 54 who seems to be there exclusively because of “cronyism.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE, 2/8/16: The following is what was originally published –

That crony is Jane-Howard Hammerstein (aka Mrs. Oscar Hammerstein III, daughter-in-law of Oscar II, aka the one you know). She’s no slouch. But her accomplishments (including an Emmy nomination) were in television.

It has been pointed out by a reader than Mrs. Hammerstein wrote with Robert Carrington under the name Jane-Howard Carrington in the 1960s. Not only wrote, but she and her partner wrote the adapted screenplay of Wait Until Dark, a classic thriller that brought an Oscar nomination for Audrey Hepburn, and the Warren Beatty-starrer Kaleidoscope. This is likely when she entered The Academy. She would still be under threat, but she would not be a “crony” entry by any means.)

There does seem to be a history of couples joining The Academy together, even if one was not accomplished in film. But most of those who came in this way are long gone.

I might also point out at this point that 27 of the 123 members who were Oscar nominated or won would never in their careers get credit for any more than three screenplays in total. (14%) This is true of 15 of the 54 members being threatened with the loss of the vote. (27%) So are the nominees a better group overall than the Gang of 55? Yes. I guess. We can try another stat… Nine Oscar winners in the Writers Branch won for their ONLY film script ever. The only example of this in the Gang of 54? Ms. Hammerstein…

And now, a list of 54 films from the Gang of 54…

3 Men & A Baby
Addams Family Values
Airplane
Autumn Leaves
The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings
Bullitt
Carnal Knowledge
Cat People
Cocoon
Cutter’s Way
Dirty Dancing
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
Down & Out in Beverly Hills
Eyes of Laura Mars
Fearless
Frankie and Johnny
Goin’ South
Heartbreak Ridge
High Anxiety
How To Make An American Quilt
In & Out
Indecent Proposal
Ironweed
Jaws
Life of Brian
MacArthur
Monty Python and The Holy Grail
Moscow on The Hudson
Mulan
Mystic Pizza
My Cousin Vinny
Naked Gun
Nashville
Peggy Sue Got Married
Pollack
Rich & Famous
Ruthless People
Serpico
Sleepless in Seattle
Smokey & The Bandit
Sons of Katie Elder
Space Jam
Start The Revolution Without Me
Street Smart
Sugarland Express
Tempest
The Jerk
The Lion King
They Call Me Mr. Tibbs
Thomas Crown Affair
Tightrope
Trading Places
Wall Street
You’ve Got Mail

Not a shabby list, eh?

You want comedy greats? You got Jerry Zucker, Carl Gottleib, Jules Feiffer, Eric Idle, Michael Palin and Michael Elias, amongst others.

Disney folks? Noni White, Bob Tzudiker, Andrw Marlowe and Malcolm Marmorstein.

You want playwrights? Lyle Kessler, Terrence McNally, Ron Clark, David Rabe.

Career-makers or Oscar launchers? Danilo Bach (Beverly Hills Cop), Hal Barwood (Sugarland Express), David Freeman (Street Smart), Stanley Weiser (Wall Street), and Raphael Yglesias (Fearless).

A survivor of the blacklist? Jean Rouverol Butler and her husband, was also a screenwriter, who had to flee to Mexico and used fronts to work.

Three members in this group made their last movie in the 1960s. There are five who have no credits beyond the 1970s. Fifteen in the 1980s. That’s not half the group. Movies made in the 90s? It’s not recent, but they can feel current. Time is not always the best measure of cultural significance, whether we’re looking at The Lion King or Jaws, Dirty Dancing or many of the other titles listed above.

Will it really make anyone feel better to be rid of the woman who wrote Gidget or the guy who wrote a bunch of Elvis movies or the team that wrote a lot of TV and a couple of movies, but somehow got into The Academy, or the woman who just won her third Emmy for “Olive Kitteridge”? It’s a conversation.

But the majority of writers in the Gang of 54 have penned movies that I have happily watched multiple times. They may not be the Clever New Kids, but they aren’t deadbeats, hanging on to the one last thing of value in their lives. Most have done great work. A few are legends.

More to come…

Weekend Estimates by Kung 3 Klady

Sunday, January 31st, 2016

Weekend Estimates 2016-01-31

Ah… the butt crack of January… when Super Bowl dreams remain a week away and the market for films leans on holdovers.

It was a bit of a daring choice for DreamWorks Animation and Fox to put Kung Fu Panda 3 on this date. It seems – have gone back 15 years – that this is the highest gross on this weekend (the specific dates of which move a bit annually) ever. The previous best ever and the previous best opening? Both from Fox. Avatar, which did 34.9 million in its 6th weekend and Big Momma’s House 2, with a $27.7 million opening in 2006. American Sniper also had a $30.7 million weekend just last year (its 6th) via Warner Bros. Also doing well, relatively, with what were considered surprisingly strong openings were Open Road’s The Grey, Paramount’s Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, and Fox’s Hide and Seek.

That said, this is still the weakest drop of Panda po yet. Domestically. And as much as this franchise has been a grower, not a shower, it’s unlikely to catch up here at home. But internationally, Panda grew from the 1st to the 2nd and may well grow again in the third round, more than making up for the domestic drop-off and assuring Panda 4.

The Revenant and Star Wars: The Force Awakens both had reported rock star drops of 24%, with the former on track for $175m domestic (unless it wins Best Picture) and the latter cracking $900 million domestic this week and probably settling in around $940 million or so… which as was noted here to much abuse months ago, has gotten it past Titanic‘s initial release worldwide and may take it to that film’s worldwide total of $2.19 billion. But Avatar remains not only on top, but on top by over 18% ($500 million… could be more). This is a testament to the power of Star Wars in America… and it’s softness internationally, given that it will just squeak by Furious 7 on the international side. It’s usually the opposite.

We had our first ever non-Cameron billion dollar international films this year… three of them… all pretty close in range, $1b – $1.2b. There are still only 20 films ever that have done over $700 million internationally. The 3 outliers were the 2 Camerons and Rings 3 in 2003. All of the other 17 were in the last 5 years. In 2011, a 7, an 8, and Potter almost rang the billion-dollar bell. In 2012, two 7s and two 8s. In 2013, a 7 and two 8s. In 2014, just one 7 and one 8 in a summer that was moaned about by the press for months. And this last year, an 8, a 9, and three billions.

Until this year, none of these big international numbers represented less than 2/3 of the overall gross. This year, two of the five were under 66% international. In both cases (Jurassic World and Star Wars 7), the domestic gross was more than $150m higher than any of the other three mega-grossers. No one is crying for either film, but one has to wonder whether the worldwide movie future is as interested in our nostalgia as we are in North America. Avengers and Minions are all franchises of this last decade and F&F, though relatively old, have been rebooted severely in recent years to make it “current.”

People may get exhausted by Marvel for other reasons, but in principle, the effort to engage the world with what feels new may be a much better strategy than re-booting a lot of 70s and 80s hits in an effort to find a hot franchise.

But I digress…

The Finest Hours/13 Hours: Secret Soldiers of Benghazi are the weak siblings to significant hits like American Sniper, Lone Survivor, and even Black Hawk Down. Much like the religious-audience-chasing films after The Passion of The Christ, there is obviously a wiling audience there… but you really have to hit their mark or you get… okay… $30 million… maybe 40.

Ride Along 2 is flailing, compared to the first. Hard to argue with a $90m – $100m gross for what should be a fairly cheap movie to make. But I would expect a third element to be added to Ride Along 3 to try to give it a boost again. Teh Rock? Wahlberg? A baby?

The Boy made up for the snow days last weekend, staying within 10% of STX’s biggest release, The Gift. But one wonders whether it would have been out ahead were it not for the snow. $40m domestic on a $10m movie is still a decent business. But by this time next year, the STX dream team (truly a group of veterans, many of whom I have known and liked for more than a decade) is going to have to step it up outside of the starter kit of horror… or Tad Friend may be writing a follow-up.

Daddy’s Home is just $10m away from being Will Ferrell’s biggest worldwide movie as a lead ever. Domestically, it will not catch Elf. But The Wahlberg influence (this won’t crack his Top 6 internationally) makes a big difference and the duo have already passed their international on The Other Guys.

Jane Got A Gun, a movie whose making makes The Revenance look like a Beverly Hills bar mitzvah, landed with a thud. No spend. No audience. 1210 screens for no good reason other than contractual… and you felt that. Not good. Sad for all involved… those who left and those who stayed.

And then there are the contenders for Best Picture…

OScar BP noms 2016-01-31

Box office means little in the race since the expansion to more than 5 slots. $38m, $50m, $130m, $32m, $114m, $15m, These are the domestic grosses of the Best Picture winners of these previous 6 seasons, before they won. So the contenders for this year have 3 more weeks and a Friday and Saturday to add their totals before this year’s winner’s domestic pre-win gross gets added to this list.

As you can see, we have 3 $100m+ movies and 5 below. None of the last 6 expanded group winners have come from anywhere between $50m and $100 million. The sample size makes this negligible as a stat, but it looks great if you are Spotlight, not so good if you are The Big Short… and not upsetting if you are The Revenant or Mad Max: Fury Road. (Sadly, The Martian gave up on itself early on and would be in a great spot to try for the win now had they not. You live, you learn… I hope.)

Friday Estimates by The Joy Of January Klady

Saturday, January 30th, 2016

Friday Estimates 2016-01-30 at 10.43.26 AM

20 Weeks To Oscar: The Race & Race – Part 3: All Fixed

Wednesday, January 27th, 2016

This has been an unpleasant week. And yet, there should be unrestrained celebration amongst all Academy members and all believers in efforts to seek greater (and ultimately achieve) racial and gender diversity in all film industry organizations, including The Academy.

The Academy announced last Friday (January 22, 2016) that the 2020 program, which has essentially already been in effect for three years, was announced officially at the Governor’s Awards in November, and was intended to double membership by people of color as well as the membership of women in The Academy by 2020.

This was a direct, specific, measurable effort by The Academy to make up for 80-plus years of extreme inequality of membership within the organization. This effort is pretty much unassailable. Unless you actually were anti-color or anti-woman, you would have to see this as positive.

The only exception being that you were amongst some odd group of Academy fundamentalists who would claim that the voter count was sacrosanct. But even that claim is not historically valid, as The Academy has made adjustments to deal with issues over the history of the organization.

So what is the problem?

Well… The Academy leadership, anxious to stamp out the public discussion of a boycott of the Show, didn’t seem to think this was enough. So they added two more measures that do not have a clear cause-and-effect relation to the gender or race equality of the organization.

First, they are adding three Board of Governor seats to be selected by the CEO and the President. With 50 votes on the Board of Governors now (plus one for the CEO in case of a tie), three more may not seem a big deal. But the Vice President sometimes has to break the tie in the U.S. Senate. A swing vote of 6% controlled by the CEO and/or President is not nothing.

Also worth noting… five new Board seats were added in 2013.

What is the purpose of this choice? Well, there is the equality on the Board of Governors on the surface. In the most recent election, there were 7 people of color running for the Board. Only one was elected. (There were 5 newcomers elected overall, including one person of color and two women, the group that is also in focus in this situation.) So there are only two people of color on the Board… 4%. Adding three would push that to 10%. (Women are currently at 32% of the Board.)

How do you balance the issues of a membership that, branch by branch, didn’t vote for these people of color? And when the President and CEO make choices, what elements do they take into consideration? A number of people who didn’t get elected to the Board are 25 year-plus veterans of the industry (such as Guillermo Navarro, Ruth E. Carter and Terilyn A. Shropshire), while there are other more high-profile names that are relatively inexperienced.

The legitimacy of this board expansion is up for grabs, reliant on the choices that are made in filling the slots.

Secondly, and far more controversially, The Board of Governors decided to impose a new set of rules meant to take voting rights away from members who have not worked in the film industry for more than 10 years.

Why?

On the surface, without any context, this seems like a reasonable idea. But there are landmines in every direction as soon as you start adding context.

The biggest problem is that the idea of taking away the votes of what will inevitably be older members (average age of membership invites is probably mid-40s to high-40s… start adding 10-year chunks from there) is that the issue of older members has been politicized over time. The Academy will not say this officially, but the idea that older voters are less open to other races, women, and “modern” filmmaking is repeated on a loop through many conversations about “what’s wrong with The Academy.”

Of course, as is too often the case in these kinds of uncomfortable discussions, there is denial from people who say they have no issue with this rule. It’s not about older members… or they aren’t calling older people racist or sexist… or that when some of these members publicly complain that they feel they are now being discriminated against, it proves they should lose their vote… all either wrongheaded or rationalizations/lies.

As a result of announcing this as part of “a sweeping series of substantive changes designed to make the Academy’s membership, its governing bodies, and its voting members significantly more diverse,” confirms and memorializes this idea, which comes down to blaming a segment of the membership. This fact does not mean that all older members are blameless. But there is not objective measure of the group that proves that the group being targeted – or older voters, in general – vote against people of color or women… that this group is holding back The Academy.

Moreover, The Board of Governors have set out exceptions to this rule that instantly takes everyone on the board out of harm’s way. Power wins.

Also, the definitions of the details of the rules (“active in motion pictures”) are unclear. And the rule about the dates of said unclear “activity” are bizarre. It was presented as “members will receive lifetime voting rights after three ten-year terms.”

Then, a few days later, came this wild variation on the “30 year” theme: ” Let’s say you were admitted to the Academy in 1980 and you worked on one film in 1989. That covers you for your first ten years. Then you worked once in the ’90s, which covers you for your second ten-year term, and once again in 2001 for your third ten-year term. That’s only a twelve-year period, but you have worked in the three ten-year terms of your membership, so you’d qualify as an active member with voting status.

So if you were at admitted in 1980 and you next worked on a film in 1992… are you out? If you were admitted in 1981, then made 20 movies from 1981 – 1999, but haven’t made one since, you’ve only worked in two decades, but someone who worked three times over 12 years is still in?

The response of the supporters is, it seems, that this kind of case is what the ability to appeal to your branch is for, but the fact that you have to make this appeal is, in and of itself, an imposition.

If this rule was really well considered and had a clear set of achievable goals, it could be viable. Just off the top of my head, how about a standard of having made 10 films in the field in the branch in which you are a member? If you attain that criteria, you keep your vote. For executives/publicists, make it 50 movies (as they in almost all cases work on at least 10 films a year). If you do not, then you have to have worked/actively developed/worked under consulting contract at some time in the last 10 years… or out. No exceptions for the more powerful or, for that matter, Oscar nominated.

You know, over the years, not everyone who is nominated gets an invitation to join The Academy. So if there isn’t an auto-entry for getting nominated, why should they be an auto-exemption for having been nominated? Make up your mind, Academy!

By the way… the President of The Academy, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, hasn’t had a full-time job in publicity since 1999, when she left New Line and started her consulting business. She also didn’t work in three different decades after getting into The Academy (entered in 1988, last job in 1999). She has, very successfully, consulted. So she remains qualified to vote, right? Does anyone know a member of the Publicity or Executive branches – all very nervous, since there is no Oscar nomination out – who doesn’t consult from time to time? Is The Academy going to asking for check stubs? Is there going to be a dollar amount that makes a consulting gig “active in motion pictures?”

Subjective standards that can be manipulated do not make for good – or legally sound – rules for a large organization.

The inclusion of this rule is either an intentional smokescreen, with no significant number of members expected to be affected or it is a poorly-considered, legally indefensible mess.

As for the issue of whether older, white members (presumably mostly male) are keeping more films involving people of color from getting nominated, it cannot be proven. However… we all have experience with older voters who don’t want to watch a movie about rappers (who rap and curse and use drusg for more than two hours) or don’t find themselves rushing to watch Creed because aside from Sylvester Stallone, the trailer is filled with black faces, or who can’t get through even 20 minutes of a beautiful, horrifying exploration of child soldiers in Africa.

We also have this experience with some younger viewers in some cases. I know younger, hipper people who don’t want to see Beasts of No Nation, no matter how I rave. They are afraid… and they aren’t crazy. It’s a terrific movie, but brutal. People who don’t have an emotional connection to NWA may not be interested in Straight Outta Compton without being old. And I have taken my disc of Creed to my brother-in-law’s house a few times (and bring it home with me each time) and have not been about to get him, his wife, his mother, or his teenage kids excited enough to put the disc in the Blu-ray.

Some of these issues exist, by the way, for Sicario, Love & Mercy, and The Hateful Eight, amongst others, and even for nominees like The Revenant, Mad Max: Fury Road and Room.

If The Academy, as an institution, said, “We want to make membership younger for the sake of choosing cooler movies, so we are stopping voting at 80,” it would be wrong. But at least it would be honest.

But the new voting rule, as it seems to exist, has a lot of arbitrariness. It clearly will focus disproportionately on older members… but not members who have shown any particular tendencies. Does an Oscar nomination keep you from being racially biased? Does working on movies in the right 12 years? Does working in movies instead of TV in the last decade?

And don’t even get me started on this one… “The Academy will also take immediate action to increase diversity by adding new members who are not Governors to its executive and board committees where key decisions about membership and governance are made. This will allow new members an opportunity to become more active in Academy decision-making and help the organization identify and nurture future leaders.”

They can’t even be honest about this. “New members” does not, I suspect, mean new members, but new members of color or female gender. Why not just say that? And why not explain how many, how this might affect operations, etc.

But the most explosive problem remains that The Academy, in attaching this rule to their “sweeping series of substantive changes designed to make the Academy’s membership, its governing bodies, and its voting members significantly more diverse,” are confirming the impression that those most expected to be the focus of this rule are guilty of inhibiting diversity.

There are certainly cases in which this is true. But there are certainly many – the majority, most would agree – in which it is not.

And we go back to the start of this column – my last on the subject for this season – and the fact that we should be excited about celebrating. The Academy has re-affirmed a commitment to broadening the doors of entry. That is good… even if it means the overall standard that had been used is lowered. That is not the point at this time. An expansive Academy should be a better Academy.

But the overreach (those that people aren’t much discussing and the one that is getting daily headlines still)… that is a problem. That is antithetical to the idea of being expansive. It is doing to a group who had no reason to anticipate this, allowing them to address the new standards, pretty much what the overall group has arguably done to people of color and women.

Is turnabout fair play?

If you really think it is, say it out loud. If you can’t say it out loud, you probably shouldn’t be doing it.

Weekend Estimates by Ice Station Klady

Sunday, January 24th, 2016

Weekend Estimates 2016-01-24 at 9.21.21 AM

Friday Estimates by Snowed-In Len

Saturday, January 23rd, 2016

Friday Estimates 2016-01-23 at 9.51.03 AM

Academy Votes To Reduce Members’ Term To Ten Years, Adds Three Memers To Governor’s Board To Be Selected By President Cheryl Boone Isaacs; Intention Is To Double Women And Diverse Membership By 2020

Friday, January 22nd, 2016

Academy Votes To Reduce Member Term To Ten Years, Adds Three To Governor’s Board, Who Will Be Selected By President Cheryl Boone Isaacs; Intention Is To Double Women And Diverse Membership By 2020

20 Weeks To Oscar: The Race & Race – Part 2: Four Suggestions To “Fix” The Academy

Thursday, January 21st, 2016

So… if The Academy needs to change, how can it be effectively changed?

There are all kinds of theories out there. I find that most of them are a bit random and hope that A + B = C, but have no empirical evidence to suggest that it actually will. It is the perverse nature of life and free will that causes reverse engineering to fail in most attempts to achieve specific intended goals.

Many at The Academy thought that expanding the Best Picture nominees from 5 to 10 would create a place for quality films with bigger box office that might boost the award show ratings. And indeed, it left space for animated nominees Up and Toy Story 3 and an exceptional action film (District 9). But mostly, it turned one of the consistent dynamics of Academy voting – the need for a certain level of box office success – into a non-issue. Instantly.

In the 10 seasons prior to the expansion, the #1 or #2 box office grosser had won ever single year. When The Hurt Locker, which grossed only $17 million, won Best Picture, it seemed like a fluke. But it has turned out to be the new normal.

There has been no Best Picture winner since then that has ranked higher than #4 in gross amongst the nominees. (This bodes well for The Big Short or Spotlight.)

There will be an exception. It could happen any year. But the trend shifted. And it shifted in a way that no one saw coming.

The Academy made another change to the Best Picture system in 2011. Instead of just having 10 Best Picture nominees, the number of nominees would be determined by a rather complicated system that kept films without a certain amount of the most passionate support from being nominated. Pretty much everyone aside from The Academy sees this system as a disaster. But it has been kept, leading to 9 Picture nominees for three seasons and 8 nominees in the last two seasons.

It’s hard to say exactly what the result of this shift was, except to say that no animated film has made the cut in the five seasons since the change and while the top grosser of the year made the cut in those first 2 years of 10 nominees, only American Sniper has made it since (and in that case, it only became the top grosser after the Oscars had been presented.)

Unintended consequences.

So if you believe that Star Wars: The Force Awakens would get the Oscar show better ratings and you want that, go back to a flat 10 immediately.

In terms of race, it is hard to make a clear line through these last 5 seasons. In the 10 seasons prior to the change, there had been 1 film nominated for Best Picture with a Black lead, Ray. Asians had led Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Letters from Iwo Jima and there were multicultural casts in Traffic, Crash and Babel.

Since 2009, we have seen films with Black leads nominated in 2009 (Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire), 2011 (The Help), 2012 (Beasts of the Southern Wild), 2013 (12 Years a Slave), and 2014 (Selma).

In the “off” year of 2010, there was only 1 acting nominee of color (if you consider Spanish to be “of color”), Javier Bardem and there were no other representatives of a film connected to any people of color in directing, writing, or acting.

Looking through the last 7 expanded seasons, another reality has been that the films that have made it to Best Picture are mostly from former nominees or very well established first-time nominees. There seems to be room for a film by a couple new directors most seasons. These have been Neill Blomkamp, Lone Scherfig, and Lee Daniels (2008), Tom Hooper and Debra Granik (2009), Michel Hazanavicius and Tate Taylor (2010), Benh Zeitlin (2011), and Jean-Marc Vallée (2013). Last season, we had Morten Tyldum, Ava DuVernay, and Damien Chazelle’s films all find Best Picture slots. Only 4 of these 12 directors got nominated, never more than 1 in a season. 2 of those 4 won the prize.

And this season, we had 3 “new” filmmakers in Adam McKay, Lenny Abrahamson, and John Crowley, all of whom are actually veteran filmmakers and all of whom didn’t have any kind of awards profile in Hollywood before their films this year. Amazingly, 2 of them got Best Director slots.

My point is, the door seemed to be a little more open this year than it has been in the past five… yet not for director/co-writer Ryan Coogler and Creed.

In any case, this is where we are… the 3rd season in the last 6 without a “Black” film or Black actor nominated.

That was background… here is the foreground. Three small but perhaps important suggestions about how to “fix” the problem at The Academy. And then one last suggestion that I think may actually be the most actionable and helpful of the lot.

1. Expanding Back To 10 Nominees – This is something I advocate for based on the basic argument of clarity. There is no upside to having 8 or 9 nominees instead of 10. No one is judging based on that. Some would prefer to go back to a flat 5. But that is a different conversation.

Would this expansion help get more people of color into the mix? Well, we had 1 year of 10 when there was more representation and 1 year where there was none, like this year.

If there were 10 Best Picture nominees this year, would 1 of the 2 additions have been Creed or Straight Outta Brooklyn or Beasts of No Nation? No one, except the accountants, know the answer to this. Sicario and Ex Machina were the other 2 PGA nominees, aside from Compton, that didn’t get Best Picture nominations. There is also Carol, which many expected to be nominated, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which some thought could be nominated (but as noted earlier, statistically unlikely), and even less likely, Inside Out and Ex Machina. And who knows what else could have popped up unexpectedly, from Steve Jobs to Son of Saul?

I think there is a good chance that 1 of the 2 studio movies would have gotten in with 10 slots. No way to be sure.

2. Changing Voting Rights Of Current Members Based On Age Or Ongoing Employment – I could not be more against this. To start, there is no proof of any kind that older members are responsible for the vote going any particular way. We can all think of our grandparents and make assumptions, but that would be yet another bias added to a conversation about bias.

Also, who gets to define “work?” If you have been trying to get a script made for a decade, have you been working or not?

What is the actual goal of taking the right to vote out of the hands of people who earned the right to be Academy members (whether you personally approve or not)? Is it because there is some moral determination to see a better Academy or is it just in the hope – with no evidence it will change anything – that the vote will come out in a way that would make many people more comfortable?

And who, really, are we trying to get rid of? Though some glibly claim that large percentages of members are unworthy hangers on, I have not seen evidence, documented or experiential, of this.

How deeply ironic would it be for those seeking to enfranchise a community that doesn’t feel it has a full place at the Academy table doing it by disenfranchising others?

I don’t have a problem with a rule taking the vote away from members who do not vote. But that should be the rule already. And obviously, if they are not voting, they are not causing the vote to go any which way.

3. Academy Regains Control Of Phase I – What we call “Phase I” is the period of campaigning before Oscar nominations close. It’s about 4 months long these days. And The Academy has taken a laissez-faire attitude towards it for years now.

There are debates about what The Academy can control or cannot control. History tells us that though people will always seek to push the limits, they will tend to stay within the rules if The Academy does its job and enforces its will… not its law (especially in an era when SCOTUS says businesses are people). But The Academy can make an angry face and send people scurrying. This is a game of perception. No media outlet wants to lose access. And no studio wants to be publicly accused of cheating just to feed another free meal to members. Suggestions by The Academy have the effect of law.

I would disallow sponsored – meaning, revenue producing – screenings… period. If Variety or LAT or The Wrap wants to do a screening series to pump up their ego, great. No making money on it. In fact, I wouldn’t even let the studios pay for the space. If the studio is paying for the space, they can hire whatever moderator they want. It should not be a commercial event.

And The Academy should screen more. A lot more. Big official Academy screenings aside, they own the Linwood Dunn on Vine. They should make a deal with Aero in Santa Monica and and maybe the Fine Arts in Beverly Hills or a screen in one or two of the Arclights and run full day schedules of contending movies for the entire months of October, November, and December. Play hookie, go during lunch, come from work, go at night or on the weekends… but have The Academy become the source – not just the peripheral beneficiary – of screening all these movies. Create community. Create consistency. Make it about the movies.

Deadline’s The Contenders… out. It is nothing but a marketing event and, again, another way of a media company using Academy members to generate profits. Moreover, it is a drain on every studio, which jump through the hoops because they don’t want to miss being a part of something, even if it gives them the smallest edge. Media must stop driving the process of the season.

That said, there should be a Contenders weekend… in January, controlled by The Academy. Whether it is the nominees or a shortlist, imagine a day with talent from all parts of a given film, coming together to talk about the work. Maybe do it around The Globes… one day before and one day after. Videotape it for membership and the world. The idea of all of this is to promote movies and the love of movies, right?

Fewer parties in Phase I. They put a cap on Phase II parties and events. Do the same in Phase I (and loosen the cap in Phase II, where the competition is more focused).

If you want the field to be more even, then even the field. Don’t allow it to be about who can spend the most, hire the most extravagant room, etc. You have to allow for creativity, but The Academy should also be working to widen the door on the event side too.

This may cost some money. The Academy makes money renting out their theaters, for instance. But if this is really important, drop a million dollars a year – of it costs anywhere near that – to take back control of the season. It is an investment in the future.

4. Create A Best Picture Short List – This is what I think is the best idea I have considered in the last week or so of lingering on this. I have discussed it with some Academy members, who have offered suggestions and poked holes in some of the details. No question, there are still going to be holes. But I think there is something here that creates inclusion, but does not demand exclusion as a price.

On the dates when The Academy now votes for all categories – last week of December, first days of January – every Academy voter is asked to vote only for Best Picture. Top 5. Straight weighted ballot count. (#1 = 5 pts, etc)

From that vote, select the top 17 movies of the year. In addition, like the Foreign Language Committee, set up a Gold Star Committee (President, CEO, 3 Governors) that can add 3 more films the night before the announcement that the committee feels were wrongly excluded. Never, ever tell anyone which ones were added by the Gold Star Committee.

Announce the shortlist with a ton of fanfare. Here is The Academy’s Top 20 for the year.

Screen all 20 movies in the course of 2 weeks, 1 each weeknight, 2 on Saturdays, 3 on Sundays. (slotting by lottery) Encourage studios to plan for this and have Academy-run Q&As for each.

Two weeks later, the second round of voting occurs. Best Picture again, perhaps weighted as it is now, perhaps not (I prefer not). And, of course, all the branch-voted categories.

Then, sometime on the last week of January, announce the nominees… same as they do now. Vote 2 or 3 weeks later.

Welcome to the 3 Phase Academy season.

In this way, you have an Academy-voted/sanctioned short list that has a safety valve for inclusion, not just regarding race, but perhaps gender, foreign language pictures, docs, animations… anything.

If in a year like this one, Straight Outta Compton and/or Creed and/or Beasts of No Nation gets in to the 17 short list, so be it. The committee might add an Inside Out or an Ex Machina or a Son of Saul. Or the vote and Gold Star Committee might leave something out that still upsets some people. This is likely.

Whatever movies are left out, there will be complaining. But this could offer a mechanism that pushes aside the distraction of what tends to be a 50 film race and also gives branch members a chance to refocus on all the work with an Academy-driven reminder of work they might want to consider if it isn’t top of mind.

Instead of allowing the December “precursors” to remain the mechanism that causes The Great Settling each year, create an Academy mechanism to do the same thing. Remember, very few people really thought Straight Outta Compton was getting a Best Picture nod until SAG voted it in for Best Ensemble (and no individual nominations). The PGA nomination then confirmed it for some more people. But The Academy’s only word on the film was, “nominee or not a nominee.” (And please note… this is not a comment on the quality or box office of the film, but a simple truth of the award season. The subtext can be further argued elsewhere.)

And I don’t see this as a step of tokenism because no one knows who got the extra boost from the Gold Star Committee, but everyone knows what films made it to the Shortlist. It’s a primary. And not just for Best Picture, but as an extension, for all the other nominations that may be part of those films.

One problem that was brought up to me was that films not on the Shortlist might feel hamstrung in terms of other categories, like acting or screenwriting. And yes, there is a reality to that. But every year, there are nominees in these categories who are not Best Picture nominees. This is another hurdle, though I don’t think it is so significant as to turn a likely nominee into an also-ran. And of course, movies like – this year – 45 Years or Trumbo, might well make the Top 20 while they didn’t make the Top 8 this year.

The point of all of this is to celebrate films. So celebrate 20 films before you celebrate 10 (or 8 or 9 or whatever, if they insist on keeping the current system for nominations). All 20 films will feel like they were legitimate parts of the conversation. Then… when the final 10 are announced… people will still be pissed… but there will be a sense of forward motion.

As for potentials complaints about the Gold Star Committee… personally, I don’t care what they select. If they want to pick all foreign films or all Black films or all women’s films or all White Guy films… all fine by me. I am looking for ways to create an opportunity for inclusion and I choose to trust the leadership of The Academy to act in the organization’s self-interest. Ultimately, the nominations will still be decided by a vote of Academy members, as it should be.

Does it change the shape of the season? Yes. Does it matter if the Oscars are never moving much earlier than the last week of February? It does not. In fact, it would give The Academy a bigger, clearer footprint on the season and slow the whole thing down a little.

No matter what changes are made, the responsibility for inclusion in Hollywood is not on The Academy… it is on the industry. Whether it is more films about people of color or more films about women or so many films of so many cultures, this conversation will no longer be needed.

Burning down this institution will not save this institution. A firmer hand at the wheel and some new structures to make the playing field less driven by commercial considerations over the artistic will help.

If you have ideas of your own, please feel free to e-mail me at poland@moviecitynews.com. If there are enough interesting ideas, I will do a follow-up column before the Governors meet on Tuesday, January 26, 2016.

Thank you for your attention. I hope we can all find a way to refocus the Oscar conversation back to the celebration of film without pushing the legitimate concerns about inequity to the side, forgotten until the next explosive event.

20 Weeks To Oscar: The Race & Race – Part 2: Four Suggestions To “Fix” The Academy

Thursday, January 21st, 2016

So… if The Academy needs to change, how can it be most effectively changed?

There are all kinds of theories. I find that most of them are random and hope that A + B = C, but have no empirical evidence to suggest that it actually will. It is the perverse nature of life and free will that causes reverse engineering to fail in most attempts to achieve specific intended goals.

Many at The Academy thought that expanding the Best Picture nominees from 5 to 10 would create a place for quality films with bigger box office that might boost the award show ratings. And indeed, it left space for animated nominees Up and Toy Story 3 and an exceptional action film (District 9). But mostly, it turned one of the consistent dynamics of Academy voting – the need for a certain level of box office success – into a non-issue. Instantly.

In the 10 seasons prior to the expansion, the #1 or #2 box office grosser had won ever single year. When The Hurt Locker, which grossed only $17 million, won Best Picture, it seemed like a fluke. But it turned out to be the new normal.

There has been no Best Picture winner since then that has ranked higher than #4 in grosses amongst the nominees. (This bodes well for The Big Short or Spotlight.)

There will be an exception. It could happen any year. But the trend shifted. And it shifted in a way that no one saw coming.

The Academy made another change to the Best Picture system in 2011. Instead of having 10 Best Picture nominees, the number would be determined by a complicated system that kept films without a certain amount of the most passionate support from being nominated. Pretty much everyone aside from The Academy sees this system as a disaster. But the Academy has kept it, leading to 9 Picture nominees for three seasons and 8 nominees in the last two seasons.

It’s hard to say exactly what the result of this shift was, except that no animated film has made the cut in the five seasons since the change and while the top grosser of the year made the cut in those first two years of 10 nominees, only American Sniper has made it since (and in that case, it only became the top grosser after the Oscars had been presented.)

Unintended consequences.

So if you believe that Star Wars: The Force Awakens would get the Oscar show better ratings and you want that, go back to a flat 10 immediately.

In terms of race, it is hard to make a clear line through these last five seasons. In the 10 seasons prior to the change, there had been one film nominated for Best Picture with a black lead, Ray. Asians led Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Letters from Iwo Jima and there were multicultural casts in Traffic, Crash and Babel.

Since 2009, we have seen films with black leads nominated in 2009 (Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire), 2011 (The Help), 2012 (Beasts of the Southern Wild), 2013 (12 Years a Slave), and 2014 (Selma).

In the “off” year of 2010, there was only one acting nominee of color, Javier Bardem and there were no other representatives of a film connected to any people of color in directing, writing, or acting.

Looking through the last 7 expanded seasons, another reality has been that the films that have made it to Best Picture are mostly from former nominees or very well established first-time nominees. There seems to be room for a film by a couple new directors most seasons. These have been Neill Blomkamp, Lone Scherfig, and Lee Daniels (2008), Tom Hooper and Debra Granik (2009), Michel Hazanavicius and Tate Taylor (2010), Benh Zeitlin (2011), and Jean-Marc Vallée (2013). Last season, we had Morten Tyldum, Ava DuVernay, and Damien Chazelle’s films all find Best Picture slots. Only 4 of these 12 directors got nominated, never more than one in a season. Two of those 4 won the prize.

And this season, we had three “new” filmmakers in Adam McKay, Lenny Abrahamson and John Crowley, all of whom are actually veteran filmmakers and all of whom didn’t have any kind of awards profile in Hollywood before their films this year. Amazingly, two of them got Best Director slots.

My point is, the door seemed to be a little more open this year than it has been in the past five… yet not for director-co-writer Ryan Coogler and Creed.

In any case, this is where we are… the third season in the last 6 without a “black” film or black actor nominated.

That was background… here is the foreground. Three small but perhaps important suggestions about how to “fix” the problem at The Academy. And then one last suggestion that I think may actually be the most actionable and helpful of the lot.

1. Expanding Back To 10 Nominees – This is something I advocate based on the basic argument of clarity. There is no upside to having 8 or 9 nominees instead of 10. No one is judging based on that. Some would prefer to go back to a flat five. But that is a different conversation.

Would this expansion help get more people of color into the mix? Well, we had one year of 10 when there was more representation and one year where there was none, like this year.

If there were 10 Best Picture nominees this year, would one of the two additions have been Creed or Straight Outta Brooklyn or Beasts of No Nation? No one, except the accountants, know the answer to this. Sicario and Ex Machina were the other 2 PGA nominees, aside from Compton, that didn’t get Best Picture nominations. There is also Carol, which many expected to be nominated, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which some thought could be nominated (but as noted earlier, statistically unlikely), and even less likely, Inside Out and Ex Machina. And who knows what else could have popped up unexpectedly, from Steve Jobs to Son of Saul?

I think there is a good chance that one of the two studio movies would have gotten in with 10 slots.

2. Changing Voting Rights Of Current Members Based On Age Or Ongoing Employment – I could not be more against this. To start, there is no proof of any kind that older members are responsible for the vote going any particular way. We can all think of our grandparents and make assumptions, but that would be yet another bias added to a conversation about bias.

Also, who gets to define “work?” If you have been trying to get a script made for a decade, have you been working or not?

What is the actual goal of taking the right to vote out of the hands of people who earned the right to be Academy members (whether you personally approve or not)? Is it because there is some moral determination to see a better Academy or is it just in the hope – with no evidence it will change anything – that the vote will come out in a way that would make many people more comfortable?

And who, really, are we trying to get rid of? Though some glibly claim that large percentages of members are unworthy hangers-on, I have not seen evidence, documented or experiential, of this.

How deeply ironic would it be for those seeking to enfranchise a community that doesn’t feel it has a full place at the Academy table doing it by disenfranchising others?

I don’t have a problem with a rule taking the vote away from members who do not vote. But that should be the rule already. And obviously, if they are not voting, they are not causing the vote to go any which way.

3. Academy Regains Control Of Phase I – What we call “Phase I” is the period of campaigning before Oscar nominations close. It’s about 4 months long these days. And The Academy has taken a laissez-faire attitude towards it for years now.

There are debates about what The Academy can control or cannot control. History tells us that though people will always seek to push the limits, they will tend to stay within the rules if The Academy does its job and enforces its will… not its law (especially in an era when SCOTUS says corporations are people). But The Academy can make an angry face and send people scurrying. This is a game of perception. No media outlet wants to lose access. And no studio wants to be publicly accused of cheating just to feed another free meal to members. Suggestions by The Academy have the effect of law.

I would disallow sponsored – meaning, revenue producing – screenings… period. If Variety or LAT or The Wrap wants to do a screening series to pump up their ego, great. No making money on it. In fact, I wouldn’t even let the studios pay for the space. If the studio is paying for the space, they can hire whatever moderator they want. It should not be a commercial event.

And The Academy should screen more. A lot more. Big official Academy screenings aside, they own the Linwood Dunn on Vine. They should make a deal with Aero in Santa Monica and and maybe the Fine Arts in Beverly Hills or a screen in one or two of the Arclights and run full day schedules of contending movies for the entire months of October, November, and December. Play hookie, go during lunch, come from work, go at night or on the weekends… but have The Academy become the source – not just the peripheral beneficiary – of screening all these movies. Create community. Create consistency. Make it about the movies.

Deadline’s The Contenders… out. It is nothing but a marketing event and, again, another way of a media company using Academy members to generate profits. Moreover, it is a drain on every studio, which jump through the hoops because they don’t want to miss being a part of something, even if it gives them the smallest edge. Media must stop driving the process of the season.

That said, there should be a Contenders weekend… in January, controlled by The Academy. Whether it is the nominees or a shortlist, imagine a day with talent from all parts of a given film, coming together to talk about the work. Maybe do it around The Globes… one day before and one day after. Videotape it for membership and the world. The idea of all of this is to promote movies and the love of movies, right?

Fewer parties in Phase I. They put a cap on Phase II parties and events. Do the same in Phase I (and loosen the cap in Phase II, where the competition is more focused).

If you want the field to be more even, then even the field. Don’t allow it to be about who can spend the most, hire the most extravagant room, etc. You have to allow for creativity, but The Academy should also be working to widen the door on the event side too.

This may cost some money. The Academy makes money renting out their theaters, for instance. But if this is really important, drop a million dollars a year – if it costs anywhere near that – to take back control of the season. It is an investment in the future.

4. Create A Best Picture Short List – This is what I think is the best idea I have considered in the last week or so of lingering on this. I have discussed it with some Academy members, who have offered suggestions and poked holes in some of the details. No question, there are still holes. But there is something here that creates inclusion, but does not demand exclusion as a price.

On the dates when The Academy now votes for all categories – last week of December, first days of January – every Academy voter is asked to vote only for Best Picture. Top 5. Straight weighted ballot count. (#1 = 5 pts, etc)

From that vote, select the top 17 movies of the year. In addition, like the Foreign Language Committee, set up a Gold Star Committee (President, CEO, three Governors) that can add three more films the night before the announcement that the committee feels were wrongly excluded. Never, ever tell anyone which ones were added by the Gold Star Committee.

Announce the shortlist with a ton of fanfare. Here is The Academy’s Top 20 for the year.

Screen all 20 movies in the course of two weeks, one each weeknight, two on Saturdays, three on Sundays. (slotting by lottery) Encourage studios to plan for this and have Academy-run Q&As for each.

Two weeks later, the second round of voting occurs. Best Picture again, perhaps weighted as it is now, perhaps not (I prefer not). And, of course, all the branch-voted categories.

Then, sometime on the last week of January, announce the nominees… same as they do now. Vote two or three weeks later.

Welcome to the 3-Phase Academy season.

In this way, you have an Academy-voted/sanctioned short list that has a safety valve for inclusion, not just regarding race, but perhaps gender, foreign language pictures, docs, animations… anything.

If in a year like this one, Straight Outta Compton and/or Creed and/or Beasts of No Nation gets in to the 17 short list, so be it. The committee might add an Inside Out or an Ex Machina or a Son of Saul. Or the vote and Gold Star Committee might leave something out that still upsets some people. This is likely.

Whatever movies are left out, there will be complaining. But this could offer a mechanism that pushes aside the distraction of what tends to be a 50 film race and also gives branch members a chance to refocus on all the work with an Academy-driven reminder of work they might want to consider if it isn’t top of mind.

Instead of allowing the December “precursors” to remain the mechanism that causes The Great Settling each year, create an Academy mechanism to do the same thing. Remember, very few people really thought Straight Outta Compton was getting a Best Picture nod until SAG voted it in for Best Ensemble (and no individual nominations). The PGA nomination then confirmed it for some more people. But The Academy’s only word on the film was, “nominee or not a nominee.” (And please note… this is not a comment on the quality or box office of the film, but a simple truth of the award season. The subtext can be further argued elsewhere.)

And I don’t see this as a step of tokenism because no one knows who got the extra boost from the Gold Star Committee, but everyone knows what films made it to the Shortlist. It’s a primary. And not just for Best Picture, but as an extension, for all the other nominations that may be part of those films.

One problem that was brought up to me was that films not on the Shortlist might feel hamstrung in terms of other categories, like acting or screenwriting. And yes, there is a reality to that. But every year, there are nominees in these categories who are not Best Picture nominees. This is another hurdle, though I don’t think it is so significant as to turn a likely nominee into an also-ran. And of course, movies like – this year – 45 Years or Trumbo, might well make the Top 20 while they didn’t make the Top 8 this year.

The point of all of this is to celebrate films. So celebrate 20 films before you celebrate 10 (or 8 or 9 or whatever, if they insist on keeping the current system for nominations). All 20 films will feel like they were legitimate parts of the conversation. Then… when the final 10 are announced… people will still be pissed… but there will be a sense of forward motion.

As for potentials complaints about the Gold Star Committee… personally, I don’t care what they select. If they want to pick all foreign films or all black films or all women’s films or all White Guy films… all fine by me. I am looking for ways to create an opportunity for inclusion and I choose to trust the leadership of The Academy to act in the organization’s self-interest. Ultimately, the nominations will still be decided by a vote of Academy members, as it should be.

Does it change the shape of the season? Yes. Does it matter if the Oscars are never moving much earlier than the last week of February? It does not. In fact, it would give The Academy a bigger, clearer footprint on the season and slow the whole thing down a little.

No matter what changes are made, the responsibility for inclusion in Hollywood is not on The Academy… it is on the industry. Whether it is more films about people of color or more films about women or so many films of so many cultures, this conversation ceases to be needed.

Burning down this institution will not save this institution. A firmer hand at the wheel and some new structures to make the playing field less driven by commercial considerations over the artistic will help.

If you have ideas of your own, please feel free to e-mail me at poland@moviecitynews.com. If there are enough interesting ideas, I will do a follow-up column before the Governors meet on Tuesday, January 26.

Thank you for your attention. I hope we can all find a way to refocus the Oscar conversation back to the celebration of film without pushing the legitimate concerns about inequity to the side, forgotten until the next explosive event.

20 Weeks To Oscar: The Race & Race – Part 1: Expectations

Monday, January 18th, 2016

This is the first of a series examining the issue of Race and The Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. It follows a Gurus o’ Gold special edition that charted the history of the Gurus voting for Best Picture over the course of the season.
============================

WHAT WERE THE REAL EXPECTATIONS, THROUGH THE SEASON, OF MOVIES INVOLVING & PERFORMANCES BY PEOPLE OF COLOR?

Before the festivals started, 13 members of Gurus o’ Gold projected possible Oscar Best Picture nominees. We broke it into three categories: Movies Already Seen, Movies Due At The Festivals, and Movies Due After The Festivals. Ten weighted votes in each category. So, 30 titles named by each Guru. This led to a list of 53 titles.

One of the eventual Best Picture nominees was not mentioned, as The Big Short had not yet been moved from 2016 into the late fall.

Two of the eventual Best Picture nominees (of 19 titles on the chart) came from films released before the Aug/Sept festival run, Mad Max: Fury Road (#3 in the category) and Brooklyn (#5). Scoring higher than Mad Max were Carol and Inside Out. Between Max and Brooklyn was Youth. There were five more non-nominees in the Top 10 vote getters (in order): Sicario, Love and Mercy, Ex Machina, Everest, and Straight Outta Compton.

The next category, Festival Runners, would end up delivering three more of the eventual 8 Best Picture nominees. Spotlight at #3, The Martian at #7, and Room at #13, making the Brie Larson-starrer the biggest (and one might say, only) longshot of the season to make it into the Best Picture nominees list.

The top two films in this category were The Danish Girl (#1) and Steve Jobs (#2). Other non-nominees landing from #4 – #12 were Black Mass, Trumbo, Suffragette, The Walk, Our Brand Is Crisis, I Saw The Light, Where To Invade Next, and The Program.

Going into the festivals, only two Gurus had listed Beasts of No Nation amongst their Top 10 festival movies, one at #7 and one at #10. Was this racial bias or was it the combination of Netflix distributing the film and the subject matter?

Even after the festivals had shown Beasts and the voting shifted to Gurus picking their Top 12 or Top 10 weekly, the film never was ranked higher than #16 until the SAG Ensemble nomination… and even then, it never got higher than #12.

The third category, Fall Releases, was home to the two other “black” films that seemed like legitimate possibilities for Best Picture. Both Concussion and Creed made the Top 10 in this category, but in the #9 and #10 spots. The two eventual Best Picture nominees to come out of this group were #1 (The Revenant) and #3 (Bridge of Spies). None of the films from #4 down would get in, starting with Joy (#2) and then after Bridge (in order), The Hateful Eight, In the Heart of the Sea, Snowden, By The Sea, Silence (moved to 2016), Concussion, Creed, Star Wars: Episode 7, Burnt, SPECTRE, and The 33.

However much the media embraces the #OscarSoWhite angle, these 13 hardcore professional awards-watchers knew that all four “black” movies were outliers in the award season from the start. Only 2 outliers as far out as these four titles (Room and the late entry, The Big Short) would end up making the Best Picture cut. The first, Room, immediately shot to #3 on the first chart after the film was seen at the festivals.

As late as December 9, The Big Short was getting just a single Guru giving it any Best Picture vote. But it accelerated quickly, starting with a SAG Ensemble nomination (like Straight Outta Compton and Beasts of No Nation), hopscotching to #9 and a month later to #3. Of course, as it stands, 3 of the 5 movies so honored by SAG did not get a Best Picture nomination, including Trumbo, which also failed to secure a matching Supporting Actress nomination for Helen Mirren, just like Idris Elba. (Both also had Golden Globes nods that didn’t convert.)

So.. on the Best Picture front, Straight Outta Compton had the strongest sense of expectation of all four “black” films… but still never was ranked higher than #9. Creed never ranked higher than #10. Beasts Of No Nation never had a ranking better than #12. And Concussion never got a single Best Picture ranking vote after the pre-season poll of 30.

Now… the more complicated realities of the Acting Categories.

It’s more complicated to chart The Gurus here because there were only five votes in these categories. But let’s take a look…

Will Smith was ranked at #11, #10, #8, #6, and unnamed. But it is worth noting that he never got more than 5 votes from the 13 Gurus in any week… never as many as half the Gurus seeing him as a likely nominee. So expectations that he would get nominated (thought it was a great performance), were low from the start of the season and though he rose a bit, the lack of a SAG nomination ended the hopes of even those who thought he had a real shot.

Michael B. Jordan didn’t start tracking at all until Creed was seen. But there were never more than 2 voters in any given week voting for him as a likely nominee.

Sylvester Stallone, who was nominated, had just one vote in the first Gurus chart. But the next time we did Supporting Actor, he had 7 votes and 6th place. Then 11 of 13 votes and the place. Then 2md place, which he maintained until the end, though he had fewer votes pointing towards a potential win. But that is the kind of growth trajectory that you want to have as you break into the nomination expectations.

In Supporting, Samuel L. Jackson, Benicio del Toro, and Edgar Ramirez were on the charts at times, though never highly ranked. Sam got 3 total votes in the 5 voting weeks (two of them were mine… still pissed that he got passed over for Django). Benicio started in 6th place with 8 votes, then a couple weeks later he was at #8 with 4 votes, then he couldn’t find more than 1 vote in any of the following weeks. One guru took a flier on Edgar Ramirez (another outstanding performance) in the first week, but that was it. None of the Straight Outta Compton actors ever charted.

Perhaps the most disappointing non-nomination was Idris Elba, who was highly ranked through most of the season. #5, #4, #3, #3, and #3. So he was right there, expected by 6 – 10 Gurus each week to get a nomination. The only other Supporting Actor who didn’t get in who got that kind of support was Paul Dano, who had a lot of support, but never as strong as Elba’s.

No actress of color, in lead or supporting, ever charted this season.

There is a lot to chew on. Why are there so few films and performances that are perceived to be in play? Why didn’t these potential nominees hold their momentum? Why didn’t Straight Outta Compton ever rank higher than #9, even with SAG and PGA nominations?

In the end, in an objective measure of the top prognosticators’ views over five months of considering these potential nominations, only Idris Elba could be considered to be unexpectedly left without a nomination. That doesn’t make any of the other potential nominees less valuable or unworthy in any way. But it does give a view of expectations from those who do this for a living.

Weekend Estimates by Benghazi Along 2 Klady

Sunday, January 17th, 2016

Weekend Estimates 2016-01-17 at 10.15.59 AM

The best story today for a movie is not the #1 film of the weekend, but the #2, The Revenant, which had a great 26% drop after a bear-load of Oscar nominations. This film is likely to be Leonardo DiCaprio’s #3 box office movie of his career, behind only Inception and Titanic, passing up The Wolf of Wall Street before the end of next weekend. Fox has done a great job of selling this as an action movie.

(Corrected: left out Titanic… dumb. 1:30p)

Ironically, the movie that is paying the price for The Revenant‘s success in the macho action demographic is 13 Hours: Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, which locked onto the Lone Survivor/ American Sniper slot, and by that standard is underperforming badly (less so in real dollars alone). Even more shocking… Michael Bay is getting some of the best reviews of his career for this one.

Ride Along 2 easily wins the weekend, but is about 17% off of the original.

Daddy’s Home is a big success for both Farrell and Wahlberg. Mark Wahlberg is a reliable box office star, but only his Transformers, Ted, and Planet of the Apes will top the domestic gross of this comedy. And Daddy’s Home is in range to pass Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, which would leave only Elf on Ferrell’s list of live-action leads with higher domestic grosses.

Speaking of Talladega, the director of that film, Adam McKay, is now an Oscar nominee for The Big Short, which is holding well as it passes the $50 million marker.

Here are the grosses on the Best Picture nominees as of today…

Oscar BP nom grosses2016-01-17 at 10.36.37 AM

Friday Estimates by Klady Along 1

Saturday, January 16th, 2016

Friday Box Office Estimates 2016-01-16

20 Weeks To Oscar: Nomination Morning

Thursday, January 14th, 2016

It was the best of times… it was the most expectedly unexpected of times… it was Chinatown, Jake… it is nominations morning.

Actually, this morning is what has been missing from this season so far… this was, in an instant, The Great Settling… which usually occurs in mid-December or so. Or as a director once said (it’s been attributed to so many), they didn’t finish Oscar nominations, they took them away. Another week or two and they could have changed again (by 10% – 20%… not completely).

Everything I wished might happen didn’t happen. Everything I expected to happen didn’t happen. But with everything that did happen, it is nearly impossible to feign shock or even serious surprise about any of these nominations.

I am terribly unhappy that Sir Ridley Scott didn’t get a nomination. (Todd Haynes, too.) But I am thrilled that Lenny Abrahamson did.

I wish Creed had run a more aggressive campaign. But I also wish The Martian had… and it got 7 nominations, including Best Picture.

I am thrilled (and not too surprised) that Ex Machina got a screenplay nod. But had they chased it, Alicia Vikander would be lock to win Supporting Actress. Instead, she and Rooney Mara will have to wrestle for it… as much as either actress will wrestle (not too much). (And I hate to get into personal stuff, but what must this morning be like for Fassbender & Vikander… giddy days.)

There weren’t any freaky-deaky nominations. With due respect to Jacob Tremblay, the right person got the nomination for that amazing child performance… Lenny Abrahamson. It would have been a travesty to take any adult actor off that list for a kid performance that was lovely, but clearly created by many artisans (including Brie Larson) in a dance with young Tremblay.

The pitchforks and torches were ready to burn down these white male Oscars, but then 4 of 10 screenplay nods went to women (wildly disproportionate to Hollywood’s track record) and Room got its 4 nods and Brooklyn its 3 and and Carol got 6, even if it didn’t get a Picture nod and The Danish Girl didn’t get dumped and while it’s not equality, 9 of the 16 films that got 2 nominations or more had lead or undeniably dominant supporting female characters.

So that left complaints of color. And there was something to complain about. The only two films with much color to them, Creed and Straight Outta Compton each got a single nomination… for white people. Both are legit commercial hits.

But let’s be realistic. The Academy was never going to give nominations to a movie about rappers. The group is over 50. The audience for the film was 25-50. Maybe “Hamilton: The Motion Picture” will get something.

Creed is a classic missed opportunity. It should be a 7-nomination film instead of a one-nomination film. There is little question. But… WB didn’t get excited until too late. There are rumblings about how it played out and why it played out the way it did. But the bottom line is, there was a big opportunity in Lead Actor, Director, Screenplay, Cinematography, and Director and the movie just never had a real sniff of any of it. And I don’t know why… except that I do know that it was not treated like a film that had all that going for it from the start, so much so that I, as one of those who saw it as a legit awards possibility since the second great trailer, withdrew interest until I finally saw the thing. And by then, it was already too late, really. The Big Short shows that you can have a late push and get there, but it isn’t easy.

Also, Idris Elba… great actor… but a tough movie that would have been a remarkable feat to get him in for, even if the pundit class somehow anointed him as “in” after he rolled through NY and LA for a week. That wasn’t reality.

Still… the real issue is that there were only three films that were dominated by faces of color that were even in the discussion. That is Hollywood. The Academy is a reflection of Hollywood. That isn’t going to change… ever.

And The Academy is The Academy. It is meant to be what it is. it is not a hip, new culture, cutting edge place. It is a place with a lot of room, but fairly average taste.

If you want to see real change, that doesn’t mean “make-up on a pig” change, there are adjustments that can be made. And they wouldn’t be that painful… for The Academy. As noted in the column earlier this week, I think it centers on de-emphasizing the Phase I race and focusing more energy and shared experience in Phase II.

But that’s another conversation…

BYOB Alan Rickman

Thursday, January 14th, 2016

rickman

BYOB Oscar

Thursday, January 14th, 2016

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6 Weeks To Oscar: Parsing, Peak Award Season, and The Alleged Seven

Tuesday, January 12th, 2016

everyone-parses

And so, we wait…

So far, the season looks like this…

Room
Mad Max: Fury Road
Carol
Spotlight
Spotlight
The Martian
The Revenant

That would be TIFF Audience Award, NBR, NYFCA, LAFCA, NSFC, Globe Comedy, and Globe Drama. The Alleged Seven.

Quite the consensus.

It’s almost like a joke. This is probably the year of Peak Award Season Bullshit. Can it really get any crazier than this year? Can there be more lunches (always preceded by a screening of some kind)? Can more awards be made up by more previously earnest organizations in order to bring along more sponsorship and milk just a little bit more from the award season teat? Can studios go along for the ride any more, chasing publicity as though it was a math problem and not an art form?

Who were the happiest people at the Golden Globes? Kate Winslet and Aziz Ansari, both utterly convinced they were not winning anything. (I guess Kate was a little happier than Aziz because she ended up winning by surprise.)

The saddest thing about the Golden Globes for me this year was reading a number of smart, established writers trying to find a rationale to excuse the con of 90 people of dubious significance who suck over $50 million a year out of the industry economy, both with the show and the perks given to them by rote by distributors.

Oh, that’s so funny! That’s so much like The Academy! Ha ha! (No.)

Denzel Washington, who had time to prepare, pretty well explained how the HFPA process works…

“Some of you may know Freddie Fields, he invited me to the first Hollywood Foreign Press luncheon. He said, ‘They’re gonna watch the movie, we’re gonna feed them, they’re gonna come over, you’re gonna take pictures with everybody, you’re gonna hold the magazines, take the pictures, and you’re gonna win the award.’ I won that year.”

Of course, it has gotten a lot more complicated than that in the decades since, as every distributor has lined up to “handle” the HFPA. Now there are 50 actors vying to be the one to do selfies towards the goal of getting a Globe, which is just a precursor in the chase for what they really want, which is an Oscar.

And at meetings at every place with a nominee that lost on Sunday night, there is a discussion on Monday about whether they did everything they could to win that stupid, meaningless award. Because when you lose or win something with a lot of people looking, it means something, even if the award is, rationally, utterly meaningless.

If the answer is, “No… we decided not to try to hard,” enjoy looking for your next job.

So… the effort is expended. And the 90 mostly semi-retired journalists, mostly from outlets no one has ever heard of, becomes the playing field for aggression and ego and big spending because once you get Hollywood fighting amongst itself over anything, the importance is magnified beyond any reason.

Who gave the best party? It matters. Who got their talent to work hardest? It matters. Who bought more covers? It matters.

Every major player in this space tracks what the others are doing and agonizes over comparisons or spins the meaning of the choices for month after month after month.

The Big Short won none of The Alleged Seven. So is it out of the race? Don’t tell that to PGA or ACE.

Six films won The Alleged Seven. Only four of the directors were nominated by DGA. Adam McKay of The Big Short, which has won no Best Picture titles from anyone of note as of yet, took the fifth slot. So are non-DGA nominees Carol and Room just out of the Best Picture picture? Is The Big Short a frontrunner even though it is coming from behind?

Only one of The Alleged Seven winners, Spotlight is nominated for SAG Ensemble, along with… AGAIN… The Big Short. SAG Ensemble is an utterly unreliable Oscar measure that has been hyped into importance. Does this mean that the race is down to Spotlight and The Big Short now? Does this mean The Alleged Seven mean nothing?

Parse, parse, parse. Parse, parse, parse. Parse, parse, parse. Hello boys, had a good night’s rest? I missed you!

Back and forth we go, zooming between breathlessly hoping that something will clarify the season while desperately hungry for surprises involving high quality films that many see as underserved by the awards season’s push to Oscar.

‘PGA, you are my only hope.”

Oh wait… there are Oscar nominations… in just a couple days…

Maybe they will be a fairly simple (overly complex math) offering of what The Academy – you know, the people who vote for the Oscars – likes this season. Maybe it will match up with expectations, including some precursors. Maybe it will not.

But I think the Academy has it all ass-backwards these days. The battle for nominations has taken precedence over what should be the battle for the win. And that is a shame.

Wouldn’t it be better if more of the Q&As, more of the chances to “socialize” with the talent, more of the intense look at a small group of pictures was taking place AFTER the nominations instead of before?

Is the ideal for an Oscar season that the voters nominate based mostly on what they actually like/love/respect and then, we all take a deep breath… and then really think about who the group thinks deserves to win the big award? Feed the hunger to know more after the field is settled, not as the process for settling the field.

Instead, we drunkenly (in many forms) lumber towards the starting gate, mostly expecting the work of the finals to be done before the horses are even locked in place. And indeed, in most seasons, the answers are down to either clear answers or one vs two battles by the time nominations happen. How is this a good thing?

And what do we do in Phase II? We sit around waiting, mostly. We amuse ourselves by giving out far too many awards (20 or so, with another 20 or so “contenders” doing panels) in Santa Barbara and having a few quiet shindigs and having guild events and the nominees luncheon and getting the show ready (which involves less than 10% of the Academy membership), all the while leaving the open question… what should really win?… unanswered. “You shoulda known by Martin Luther King Day, sweetheart!”

Nominations should be the start of a second major discussion… even if The Academy doesn’t want anything going on while they break their backs to build a TV show. With due respect, it’s not really about the damned TV show… it’s supposed to be about the movies!

And we in the media are as much to blame as anyone. We are, as a group, stuffing our pockets as fast as we can and could really not care much less about the quality or sanctity of award season. We don’t have to. The Academy doesn’t care what anyone does in Phase I anymore. So it’s puff, puff, puff it all up, all the time.

I hate to offer Deadline an idea… and it doesn’t have to be Deadline. It should be The Academy sponsoring this… but when is there an actual value to The Contenders? After the contenders are actually set.

Imagine, instead of little slots for hyperactive marking presentations, full half-days (three or four hours) dedicated to each of the Best Picture nominees. Show the movies. Meet the cast. Meet the below-the-line teams. Cross the groups when appropriate. When do we get a chance to hear from all the layers with enough time to get a sense of what happened? And when would it matter before nominations since all the branches vote separately? Have a real discussion of what went into the evolution of the film. Be a community, instead of a bunch of people running from event to event, trying to secure votes by showing fealty to the process.

We have all allowed the award season to become a gaping, hungry maw that leads to… the starting line. Which is insane, when you think about it. If we are at Peak Award Season Bullshit, let’s all get out the GPSes and plan a course for a change. The movies deserve it.

Weekend Estimates by Magic Saturday Klady

Sunday, January 10th, 2016

Wekend Estimates 2016-01-10 at 9.06.02 AM

Star Wars had a surprising 78% increase from Friday to Saturday, which suggests… who the hell knows anymore? Is it now playing to the younger kids that parents were afraid to take right off the bat? I don’t know. Is it what all the kids are doing on date night now? Is it people who were afraid of being able to walk in without pre-sale tickets catching up now? Likely all of the above and more.

The Revenant number surprised me for different reasons, until I watched some of the Fox ads for the film, which do an excellent job of making it look like a straight action movie. Leo doesn’t hurt. (The 6% Saturday increase can’t be thrilling to Fox, but they are far ahead of their own expectations.) That said, if you told most people in the business that Revenant was heading to $100m domestic, they would have laughed at you a couple weeks ago… but now, it looks like it’s heading – with an added bump from Oscar noms on Thursday – to $100m-plus domestic. And foreign has topped domestic on all of Iñárritu’s major studio releases (yes, I include the Dependents), so that bodes well. (Interesting stat of which many probably are not aware… 12 Years A Slave did more than two-thirds of its business overseas, grossing $188 million in theatrical… a massive hit on a $20m budget that is about an American historical event and which was centered on Black people not doing anything funny. And if you were wondering, the connective tissue is New Regency and award movies.)

Daddy’s Home also had a nice uptick on Saturday and pushed over $115m.

Here is a weekend look at just the Oscar hopefuls currently in theaters…

Oscar hopefuls in theater 2016-01-10 at 9.49.41 AM