Author Archive

Friday Estimates: Modestly Rich Asians,

Saturday, August 18th, 2018

Friday Estimates 081818

Hollywood have given all the love it can give to Crazy Rich Asians, but the movie still has work to do to find a big mainstream audience. There is nothing wrong with a $23 million 3-day or even a $20m 3-day, especially after $8.8 million was siphoned off on Wed/Thurs. But… let’s be adults about this. The film is going to have to find a strong post-release word-of-mouth gear to get close to $100 million domestic. And that is the magic boundary. There is absolutely nothing about the film that makes it less accessible to whites, blacks, middle easterners, eskimos, greeks, etc. It is a 18+ family comedy that every ethnic group will find familiar. But I am afraid that in all the celebration of finally making an “all-Asian” movie at a studio, the studio forgot that they had to tell the rest of the audience why it was relevant to them. And I am not suggesting that the ticket sales were “all-Asian,” either. I am just saying that this movie opened as you might anticipate opening a mid-August studio comedy with some cultural standing. This is the number you would have gotten from a Julie & Julia or an Eat Pray Love. But the buzz around this movie was bigger than those. So you wonder why the 5-day isn’t more like $40 million. I know that some will be upset that anyone rain on the parade. And this opening is by no means bad. But greatness is measured, with a very commercial movie, but its box office as well as the quality and the cultural significance.

I haven’t seen Mile 22. This number is good considering the fairly soft sell and the terrible reviews across the board. On the other hand, if you look at Mark Wahlberg’s recent box office history, his status is dimming a bit when he is not attached to an existing franchise or sequel. He and his people should be taking a hard look at why this is and what they can do. Working with Peter Berg is never a bad idea, especially when the actor connects so well. But they need to find something that just plain wins. He needs his Taken. Or he needs another Scorsese infusion, which the Ridley Scott film was not. He has a great 3rd act waiting to happen. But time for a rebrand.

Good weekend at the art houses. The Wife, We the Animals, Juliet, Naked, Blaze will all do at least $10k on 2 – 4 screens each.

Friday Estimates: Meg Eats, Slender Man Thin, BlacKKKlansman Burns Gently

Saturday, August 11th, 2018

Friday Estimates 2018-08-11 at 12.04.25 PM

The Meg will likely be the biggest opener of the summer for Warner Bros, with a number in the low 40s. The most striking thing about this is that WB put out such an unambitious summer slate by their historic standards. They should have a much better fall/holiday run. But even looking at next summer, one wonders if we will ever again see the studio flex all that muscle it used to show off constantly. Still… Crazy Rich Asians next weekend… so it could be a heavy August slate of wins for WB.

Slender Man arrives with a whimper. Will Screen Gems ever develop a strong post-Clint voice?

And BlacKKKlansman has a mixed launch. Strong for Spike and in this 1500-screen range, solid for Focus. But it’s still a $10 million launch focused in all the locations that are expected to be strong for this film. Expansion is not going to change the trajectory. So you can look at it as Spike having a single day that is better than the total grosses of his last 3 films. Or you can look at it as his best opening, with the exception of Inside Man, in the last 15 years. Or you can look at the opening as stronger than a couple of Focus’s other 1500 screen openings, The Ice Harvest and The World’s End, which are both beloved films. Or you can look at it as the Florence Foster Jenkins or Hell or High Water of this summer. Or you could see it as a $25m domestic-grossing disappointment. It’s all about perspective. And this opening allows for many variations in perspective.

Nice single screen opening for Skate Kitchen… which everyone should try to see on a big screen, though it will be a hip movie to watch on phones for many years to come.

Weekend Estimates: Oh Pooh! The Audience That Dumped Them

Sunday, August 5th, 2018

Weekend Estimates 2018-08-05 at 10.55.23 AM

For those who wrote (snicker, snicker) about how the “Wonder Woman weekend” was a lost opportunity earlier this summer, we present The First Weekend Of August. home of 2016’s $134 million opening of Suicide Squad. This first weekend in August, the Top 17 movies grossed $134 million.

Reality is not complex on this issue. There are a few weekends (14 or so) that offer, most often, more opportunity. And there are a few weekends (3 or so) that offer, most often, less opportunity. And then there are about 35 weekends or so in every year that are absolutely neutral.

But even weekends of opportunity offer nothing remotely close to a guarantee. And the same is true of the “dead” weekends.

If it were somehow ready and Captain Marvel was not a piece of the puzzle and Marvel decided to fill the Star Wars hole in December, they could put Avengers 4 on the first weekend of December, forever considered a dead zone, and open the film to $200 million or more.

Avengers: Infinity Wars abandoned “the first weekend of the summer” this year and won… and you can expect them to do it again, though they will wait until January or so to shake out anyone thinking of trying to steal April 26. And like the traditional “best weekend” that was Memorial Day every summer and evolved into “the weekend before Memorial Day” (before being supplanted to the less crowded first weekend of May), “the start of the summer” will become the last week of April for all films moving forward.

This is all loaded down by superstition too. WB will release a horror film on “It Day” this year and sit on the date for It: Chapter 2 in September 2019, leaving completed film in the can for more than 6 months because somehow, they think that the film needs to return to that slot. 100% fear based. The sequel can’t open or total out much better than the original ($124m/$328m), no matter where it is released. But if they move it to the summer, where there is more opportunity, and the film underperforms the original, the studio will be accused of making the mistake of moving it. And if WB leaves it in exactly the same place, at a cost of a few extra million, that complaint is voided. This is not a WB issue. It’s every sequel.

When they move Solo to summer and fail (by SW standards), everyone screams about breaking the release rhythm. But the reality is, they just didn’t do a good job selling the movie and then the movie itself was not what people had been hoping for when they hired Lord & Miller and it flopped. LucasFilm Queen Kathy Kennedy grabbed hold of the double-edged sword. She wasn’t happy with the work by Lord & Miller, right or wrong. But the safe bet would have been to let the movie go on and let everyone blame them if it was bad. So on some level you have to give her credit for making the very hard choice. But the flipside – and not all that unusual – is that she could have let the movie she didn’t love move forward and it could have hit in a way she could not see… and then she could get all the money and take credit. (None of this reflects on Ron Howard, by the way, who came in an did the profession work he was asked to do.)

This is the insanity of the film business. Commitment to deep, true feelings and passions are absolutely in play. But cynical “let’s not stick out neck out too much” is also in play. The “brave” thing can be the wrong thing. And the by-the-book choice can be the right thing. And very few people outside the immediate circle of the film are going to know… including some people who are close enough to know the true stories and still don’t understand what happened.

Using the Solo example, Kennedy took the riskiest path, which she saw as the safest path. 50 people (or fewer) can offer any real opinion about whether her view of the Lord/Miller work was accurate or premature or just wrong. And the “risky” path of just letting it play out as it was going was less risky for her and Star Wars, but also may have led to a triumph that she could not predict st the stage the film was at when she pulled the plug. Taking the path she took has shaken faith in the entire franchise (which is silly) because she went traditional, reshot most of the movie, and still couldn’t get close to the bullseye. Combine that with other Hamlet moments in the production of the re-booted franchise’s first 5 films and there is perceived trouble in River City.

And then there is the biggest safety error when the project was being reconsidered mid-production… a couple scenes with Jabba The Hut and Boba Fett could have been worth 100s of million at the box office. They were expending a ton more money anyway, so why not give up on multiple “Solo” spin-off movies and just give the audience what you know they want? So much safer. But again… Kathy Kennedy took a giant risk and didn’t pander. And audiences kicked her ass as, in some part, a result.

There are a million – almost literally… maybe literally – choices along the road to putting a big movie on the big screen. You can fail at virtually any stop on the chain. And you can overcome failure in virtually any part of the chain with a triumph in another part of the chain. The rules are clear… and utterly irrelevant… and everything. No one knows anything, as The Great Goldman wrote.

Will The Meg explode into theaters next weekend? You can look at tracking and guess. Or you can tell me how it feels.

Whatever they are saying publicly, people at WB are sweating today, wondering if they have done everything they could do to open that film. People love the materials… but will that get them into theaters? If it opens soft, no one will question the date. If it opens better than expected, people will question the date. And that is the eternal conundrum. Both failure and success bring questions that are hard to answer. The only thing that doesn’t is when, as happens a few times a year, something does SO WELL that everyone just bows. Get Out, Wonder Woman, It, Black Panther, being the latest ones. Me? I would argue that those super-sized successes each had a very different path to their super-sizing. There is no group lesson.

But in Hollywood, almost everyone is trying to sell their cow for magic beans.

And really, who can blame them?

This weekend, no magic in the beans. One disaster out of three… but from a company that was just sold and is deeply demoralized.

Nice holds helped along by the soft newcomers.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post topped per-screen numbers… and this next week, the talent will be out selling the weekends to come for FilmRise. An unusual choice. Bold. And how things work in much of the indie promo these days. #NOKA

Friday Estimates: Disney Can’t Quite Open Non-Superhero Pooh, Lionsgate Dumps Spy By Mistake, Fox Goes Dark

Saturday, August 4th, 2018

Friday Est 2018-08-04 at 9.05.21 AM

Weekend Estimates: Mission Succeeds But Doesn’t Blow Up, Titans Go Boom Boom

Sunday, July 29th, 2018

Weekend Estimates 2018-07-29 at 12.03.02 PM

A solid Mission: Impossible opening for Mission: Impossible.

You can’t complain about it. It’s the best in the series. But you can’t crow about it either. It’s the #7 opening of the summer (if you include Avengers, which I do).

It will gross between $195m and $210 million domestic and between $375m and $500 million internationally, a worldwide box office range of $570 million to $710 million.

Four of Cruise’s Top 5 worldwide grossers are M:I movies. This will push #5 down to #6. Could he his 3rd best ever. Could be his best. We’ll know in time and it won’t be because of domestic box office.

There is something nice about consistency. And this is one of the most consistent franchises in the world. In a way, it is a bit like Bond, pre-2012. Consistent growth for a mature franchise, not nothing shocking. Then BOOM, Skyfall almost doubles Quantum of Solace, which was the #2 all-time Bond grosser when it was released. The franchise goes from $500 million something a movie to over $1 billion. SPECTRE fell back a bit, but only to $880 million, which is still a giant leap in the franchise’s history.

I think that people expected this Mission to somehow be Skyfall. McQuarrie did a great job with the last M:I film (his first) and this was the payoff.

But… it’s not. Still right in the pocket.

I thought that Tom Cruise, while in amazing shape, looked every minute his 50seomthing years. It’s one of the things I liked about the film. But maybe we have to come to grips with movie stars, sans CG-driven ideas, being capped at $500 million international, a number Cruise has never broken.

Even Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle, which did almost a billion worldwide, was just barely past $500 million international… and aside from F&F, it was his biggest international movie by over $230 million.

I have been writing for years that the people who rage on about the CG and Franchise of it all have a flaw in their thinking… that the giant numbers are replacing “better” work, and in this case, the power of movie stars. My position is that big CG filmmaking has created a new space for the film industry and that comedies, dramas, movie stars, etc – our beloved elements of the past – are still there and thriving in many cases. They are just overshadowed by the big movies in a media culture that is primarily interested in drawing the most attention possible, not telling a well-rounded story.

The measures of the movie world have changed dramatically. Screaming into the ether about how cruel the world is that has brought unto us the billion dollar gross is just willfully missing the facts.

Friday Estimates: Mission Teen (Not So) Impossible Go

Saturday, July 28th, 2018

Friday Estimates 9a 072818

Weekend Estimates: Mamma, You’ve Been Equalized!

Sunday, July 22nd, 2018

Weekend Estimates 2018-07-22 at 12.33.50 PM

Okay… I had fun with the title of this, but if there is anything I can emphasize first about box office, it is that there was no race this weekend between The Equalizer 2 and Mamma Mia!: Here We Go Again. Both movies opened. Both had wildly different constituencies. They took different directions over the course of the weekend and the “race” between them was coincidental, not comparative.

There are a few weekends a year when a film or a couple films are so dominant on an opening weekend that they really do crowd out other films. This is not one of those.

There have been four weekends with more than $200 million in domestic grosses amongst the top 12 films in release. That is when a film or films can crowd other films out of their position. There are occasional occurrences of films that really compete heavily with the same demos when one can “win out” over the other. But that is what distributors pay their executives not to allow to happen.

A couple brief thoughts on this specific weekend to come…

The story of the weekend at the top of the charts is that both opening sequels, Mamma Mia!: Here We Go Again and Equalizer 2, fell off the cliff on Saturday, victims, in part, of the relatively recent practice of counting Thursday shows after 7p as Friday box office.

There is not enough experiential evidence to call this a box office trend at this time… however… the other 2 openings that had a similar trajectory over their opening weekend in this opening range were Fifty Shades Freed and Ocean’s 8. It was not true of Ready Player One, Rampage, A Wrinkle In Time or Pacific Rim 2, all of which opened between $28m an $42n this year. Last summer, Girls Trip also had a similar trajectory ($31m open), though it didn’t drop as hard on that first Saturday.

So the question of whether this is a “ladies night” phenomenon has to be considered. Big Friday… high anticipation from a specific demo… never a better day than that first Friday/Thursday night. Of course, horror movies tend to take this to an even greater extreme. To some degree, this is also true of “black movies.”

Everyone is hypersensitive these days to the discussion of these demos. And we should be. They have been underserved and often mistreated forever. Still… the numbers are the numbers.

There is nothing wrong with niches, either in the work itself or the embrace of them commercially. It is a bit… maybe ironic… that the push for women and POC in mainstream studio films comes at a time when the business of so much of studios has become about serving niches, niche by niche. The intensity of the split doesn’t have to happen… but studios are not great at subtle shifts. They get very black and white (no pun intended), in great part because of the size of the dollars involved for them.

But I digress…

The answer to the weekend is that E2 dropped less than MM2 on Saturday… though again… both dropped.

A24 had a nice expansion for Eighth Grade. Blindspotting opened well on 14. Both, like Sorry To Bother You should be on more “traditional” multiplex screens. This is not a criticism of the distributors, but of the current system. Opening multiplexes up to indie product more aggressively should be coming back in style, while studio mega-movies invading indie theaters has been the trend in the last 5 years.

Bleeker Street also scored with McQueen on a single screen and IFC got Far From The Tree in gear, also on 1.

Friday Estimates: Mamma Equalized 2

Saturday, July 21st, 2018

friday estimates 2018-07-21 at 12.32.03 PM copy

Weekend Estimates: Johnson Haze

Sunday, July 15th, 2018

weekend estimates 2018-07-15 at 9.58.48 AM

Hotel Transylvania 3 started Friday stronger than its predecessors, but is estimated to end up between 1 & 2 for a completely expected launch. Dwayne Johnson, however, was rocked, not only missing the top slot with Skyscraper, but falling to #3 in estimates for the weekend. Eighth Grade and He Won’t Get Far On Foot launch well, each on 4 screens.

Friday Estimates: Blob Beats Rock

Saturday, July 14th, 2018

friday estimates 071618

BYOB

Tuesday, July 10th, 2018

byobriot

Weekend Estimates by JW2,2

Sunday, July 1st, 2018

Weekend Estimates 2018-07-01 at 11.38.52 AM

Friday Estimates

Saturday, June 30th, 2018

fridsay est 063018

Sicario grossed $47 million domestic, $38 million international. This start for Sicario: Day of the Soldado suggests that its sequel will be over $100 million worldwide, so… a win.

Uncle Drew is a cheap movie and will be over $15m this weekend. It is not the launch Lionsgate was hoping for with its very aggressive marketing and promotional effort. But the hope is that it will be the silly, feel-good film that takes off. Either way, it will be a profitable effort… even though it is unlikely to do as much as it did in the US this weekend in the entire rest of the international market.

Leave No Trace and Three Identical Strangers are doing excellent per-screen business on 9 and 6 screens.

Weekend Estimates by Goldblum Cameo

Sunday, June 24th, 2018

weekend pass 4

So Jurassic World: Lost Kingdom is the latest example of why making weekend projection based on Friday numbers (especially on Friday afternoon) is dumb. Projectors were off by more than 10%. Could have gone the other way. Whether JW2 opened to $150 million or not will only really matter in the history books and when future guys like me do data analysis and look at the $150 million tipping point as reference. (My bet would be that another $2 million shows up in the “Actuals.”)

Kinda sick of feeling compelled to point out how well things are going. We now have 5 $100 million domestic grossers this summer, plus Avengers 3. Last year? 3 at this point.

If you include Avengers and J-World actuals over $150m, this will be the first summer ever with 3 $150m openings. Interesting notes on that is that Avengers has been part of the only years with 2 or more $150m summer openings (2012 and 2015) and the last one (2015) was in tandem with… Jurassic World.

The only box office blemish on this summer so far is Solo. And for all the speculation, no one talking to press really knows the story of what the future holds for LucasFilm’s spin-offs. Maybe they should give the control of those to Feige, as he has done them brilliantly for Marvel. I continue to content that Solo would have done better if they just stuck with Lord & Miller… the budget wouldn’t have exploded… and while it may not have done Rogue One numbers, it would not have lost money as Solo has. I’m sure someone thinks I am wrong… but Lord/Miller is 4 for 4 in profit. They have not had a flop. (And for the record, I don’t put any of this on Ron Howard, who did heavy lifting in a bad situation because he is an A #1 pro.)

Won’t You Be My Neighbor brings the rare appearance of a doc in the Top 10 at the box office… especially in the middle of the summer… though RBG got there twice in May. Great summer doc season this year, including a bunch of titles that will not do this kind of business. This includes the Jarecki film, The King, which was the per-screen king for arthouse this weekend. Get going.

Next weekend brings 2 movies that should get a good reception, albeit not mega-numbers, from audiences. Uncle Drew tantalizes as a potential summer break-out feel-good comedy, skewing to black audiences first, but getting more color blind as it rolls along, like Girls Trip. And Sicario 2 (Day of the Soldado is a HORRIBLE title to sell a movie with) is a movie that has critics twisted up in knots, but really is “the kind of movie they don’t make anymore.”

Sicario: Day of the Soldado is not a real sequel or more than a kissing cousin to the Denis Villeneuve masterwork (co-authored by Roger Deakins in a very real way). Nor is it the kill-kill-kill movie that they are selling in the ads. The opening sequence of this film is a good lead towards understanding the way the two films relate. It is tough and interesting, but nowhere near the gut punch of the original’s opening sequence. But not being one the great films of the decade doesn’t make it anything less than a solid film, unique in today’s studio output. It lingers on the theme of loyalty amongst mercenaries, which was a small part of the original Sicario. And it takes its time.

The end of the film is a hat tip to the Sicario Cinematic Universe, which I wouldn’t mind seeing at all… but I can’t argue with those who don’t care for it either.

Friday Estimates Analyzed by Dino David

Saturday, June 23rd, 2018

Friday Estimates 2018-06-23 at 11.21.43 AM

Never know when it will be the last one…

And not very interesting. Just another weekend of massive success. The 4th $125m+ opening in 8 weeks of a one-week extended summer season. Hasn’t happened before. Best before was Captain America: Civil Wars, Finding Dory, and Suicide Squad over the entire summer. I don’t actually foresee any ore this summer, but I do see 8 or 9 legitimate hits to come.

Here is the idea… wait more than a decade and bring back a beloved franchise,s how some promise, and you have a shot at an absolutely insane opening. The next film will not open as well. But it might gross the same or more.

Then there are franchises with bigger openings to the 2nd film, like The Dark Knight trilogy or The Hunger Games, which saw their second films open to $2 million and $6 million over their $150m+ launches for the first of their series. Wow. Big whoop.

My point is… J-World: Fall opening over $125 million and under $150 million is an epic non-story. Well, except that it’s a terrific gross.

I am also very curious about why some critics seem to have a raptor claw up their ass about this film. It is better than any Jurassic movie other than the first. Yet reading reviews, it seems that some critics were expecting something other than a Jurassic Park movie… like the dinosaurs were going to Wakanda or something. If you love movies and you can’t handle a dinosaurs teaching humans a lesson in humility because scientists and money grubbers do stupid shit, you might need a new job.

Don’t get me wrong. If you don’t like the movie, you don’t like the movie. But I haven’t read a bashing criticism that was much more considered than, “This shit again?” Boring. Lacking perspective. Afraid to pick on the mess that is Ocean’s 8 or Tag?

Hold on! My DirecTV just went blank! Who is reading this?!?!?

Nice hold for Incredibles 2… which I wouldn’t mind seeing again today.

Would You Be My Neighbor? is going RBG-like numbers. Finding that feeling of integrity and nostalgia would seem a good way to postilion any doc about now.

Later, gators…

Weekend Estimates by Mr. Credible

Sunday, June 17th, 2018

Weekend Estimates 2018-06-17 at 10.02.09 AM

Fourth time there have been 3 $150 million openings in a year. (150 is the new 100.)

About to be a record-breaking 4 $150m openings in a year… and all before July 1.

I don’t actually expect a 5th, given the poor opening of Solo and the lack of a Star Wars film over Christmas. However, we will tie the record for $100 million openings before July 1 with 5 next weekend. And I see 4 potential additions to that during the rest of the summer and 4 more in the fall/winter. Obviously, not even half of those 8 will make the mark. But the annual record is 8 and that is well within reach.

Theatrical is dying. Kids don’t go to the movies. Etc, etc, etc… blah, blah, blah…

I can’t say this enough times – and you won’t hear me say it many more times in public – the future is coming… subscription access to virtually everything is coming… and theatrical window will, above all, be the way success is defined in the future of movies. Streaming services, of which you will subscribe to a group, not unlike the cable bundle, will tout their successes and numbers only to keep subscribers from churning. Someone will try to charge a premium for early access in 2021 and the experiment will fail. There will be no YouTube Red in the future, but people will pay for subscriptions to get YouTube access overall… and life will go on. If you want it, you will pay for it in some manner.

And the only way to pay for Avengers movies and Pixar movies, etc, as we know them now, will be theatrical. Eyeballs will be cheap. Dollars will be – as they really are now, though people are all in a tizzy – the way things are measured. And the difference between a movie that premieres on Disney Family Streaming and a Pixar movie will be the billion dollars that the Pixar movie adds to Disney’s coffers. And don’t think that money is minor. Figure 100 million households in America paying $10 a month for Disney Family… that’s $12 billion a year. One movie improving revenues by 8.5% is major. And if you think Comcast is leaving behind the $370 million for Fifty Shades Freed‘s spin-off stepchild, you are wrong.

We are all too distracted by the shiniest, most expensive objects. The giant movies are great and highly profitable in all windows. But the middle business is business too. And when the film/tv business gets capped – nearly permanently – by what is currently being touted as the disruption of streaming, it will matter even more. For a lot of companies, a $24 billion cap on annual revenues across 200 million paying households worldwide is a step up. But when there is nowhere to go from there, they will all chafe.

The Incredibles 2 not only broke the record for an animation opening… it smashed it by $45 million.

Decent hold for Ocean’s 8, following a decent opening. A successful movie, even though it is not very good. As I have said a thousand times, succeeding with mediocrity is the real test of growing opportunity in Hollywood for women and POC. (By the way, I expect “POC” will be seen as a glib diminutive sometime in the next couple years.)

Tag is not It. But it felt somehow appropriate that a mediocre movie that is so Toby Emmerich, sold with such mediocrity, opened on WarnerMedia’s opening weekend to such a mediocre number. I know that the people employed by Warner Bros are capable of better on every level. But if you look hard at the last couple of years, there have been some very beautiful weeds, but the garden is pretty lame. How much will change how quickly at the studio that seems on a collision course with a Best Picture win and a surprise smash with Crazy Rich Asians to compliment a run of mediocrity or outright flops. (I so want to believe in The Meg.)

And Gotti goes into the potty. Though, I have to say, $1.7 million for what looks like an endless disaster is a tribute to Travolta working the movie. And some loonies will attribute it to MoviePass’ involvement… which will be deeply misguided.

(More to come…)

Friday Estimates

Saturday, June 16th, 2018

Screen Shot 2018-06-16 at 4.01.12 PM

Hot Button Rules of Thumb (first published in 2006)

Monday, June 11th, 2018

Top 10 Hot Button Rules of Thumb

I just ran into this list, posted somewhere 8 years ago.

There is really only one specific change. In item #2, the DVD market has changed and international has become a much more significant force. I would still say that $150m domestic is still not a blockbuster, but often the start of a road to more than $300 million in returns to the distributor and/or funders. These days, a blockbuster starts anywhere between $200m – $250 domestic, depending on expected international results. There were 11 films over $200m domestic in 2012 and 13 in 2013. And in most cases, production costs of the films in that range have gone up substantially as well.

TOP TEN HOT BUTTON RULES OF THUMB

1. Great Media Outlets’ Standards Are Less Stringent When The Subject Is Entertainment And That Sucks.

2. $150 Million Is No Longer A Blockbuster In Theatrical… But Right Now Represents The Start Of A Road To More Than $200 Million In Returns to The Studio In Most Cases Thanks To The New DVD Market And Expanded International Theatrical Market.

3. Successful Movie Advertising Sells One Idea At A Time… And There Actually Has To Be An Idea Worth Selling.

4. The Story Of The Moment Is Almost Never The Real Story.

5. There Are Very Few Journalists In Entertainment Journalism.

6. Talent Is Your Friend Until It’s Time For Talent Not To Be Your Friend.

7. Reviewing Scripts Or Test Screenings Is Selfish And Immoral… You Do Not Know What Effect Sticking Your Nose Into Process Will Have And More Often Than Not It Is Negative.

8. Opening Weekend Is Never About The Quality Of The Movie.

9. There Are Things I Know And Things I Don’t Know And Sometimes They Change.

10. Love What You Do And Do What You Love Or Get The Fuck Out.

Top 10 News Stories – Hot Button, Dec 2017

Monday, June 11th, 2018

Top Ten Movie News Stories of 1997

There was lots of movie news this year, but not much that will be remembered. Here are the 10, in inverse order, that I think will be.
10. Death — Death is always a major story. There were some big ones this year (in alphabetical order): Chris Farley, Samuel Fuller, Burgess Meredith, Robert Mitchum, Dawn Steel, Jimmy Stewart and Fred Zinnemann. And my father, Sidney. You’ll always be with us, whatever the format.

9. DreamWorks starts releasing movies — Spielberg, Katzenberg and Geffen cut the red tape and the result was The Peacemaker, Amistad and Mouse Hunt. Tough out there, huh boys?

8. Star Wars — The 20th anniversary release proved that the franchise is still the biggest with over $250 million for the trio in North America alone. Now Fox has the inside track on the prequel, due Memorial Day weekend, 1999. And though it’s a sure bet to gross well over $500 million, that’s nothing compared to the billions in merchandising. Start lining up now.

7. Disney vs. Fox’s Anastasia — Fox was the home of paranoia as Disney released the same seven-year-old re-release that they do in early November and the same new film that they do every Thanksgiving. With Anastasia doing just $50 million domestic, who won the war? Sony’s I Know What You Did Last Summer, which dominated the pre-Thanksgiving fall by giving audiences what they wanted instead of trying to fight an entrenched franchise.

6. The Return of Julia – Bankable women movie stars are almost as rare as producers who can balance their own checkbooks. The return of the redheaded, smiling, big-opening Julia Roberts in My Best Friend’s Wedding is a triumph for the entire industry. You can never have enough major movie stars. Just don’t greenlight Mary Reilly 2 by mistake.

5. Black filmmakers — As the studios were getting out of the business of making relationship films with major white stars, young black filmmakers were filling the void. Ted Witcher‘s love jones, Kasi Lemmons’ Eve’s Bayou and George Tillman Jr.‘s Soul Food all made their mark at the box office with strong stories and compelling characters. Meanwhile, Set It Off director Gary Gray got a greenlight for The Negotiator, the first film ever directed by a black director with a budget over $40 million. It’s about time.

4. Titanic — The saga of the budget. The PCP-laced seafood chowder. The delay from the July release date. The bad press. The reports of a $300 million budget. Entertainment Weekly’s generous rewriting of history, reducing the film to an almost palatable $200 million. The mob at the Japanese opening. The success. What a story! And the eight or so Academy Award nods ain’t gonna hurt either.

3. Studios rebound critically/Indies subside — Last year, the Academy Awards were so independent that even the media couldn’t tell the nominated stars from their publicists. This year, the studios are back. Miramax will be pushing Good Will Hunting, but aside from that, expect a studio landslide of nominations. What happened? Better movies overall. And the more good movies, the more likely that the ones form the major studios will be recognized.

2. Warner Bros. in flux — After being the most stable studio in town for years, the WB has suddenly become The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight. Batman and Robin, Fathers Day, Mad City and Steel all made my Ten Worst list (coming this weekend). And L.A. Confidential, the favorite for the Best Picture Oscar, underperformed badly. So who got fired? Marketing President Chris Pula, perhaps the savvyest guy around. Another dead messenger. Another screwed up studio.

1. Sony Succeeds — This was the biggest surprise of them all. Hit after hit after hit came from the failed tenure of former film chief Mark Canton. A record breaking $1.25 billion year with more than 20 percent of the domestic going into Sony pockets. And Godzilla is still awaiting its Memorial Day 1998 monster release. Last month, new movie chief John Calley announced a load of projects poised to get rolling, amongst the very first of his tenure. We’ll know if they worked sometime in 1999. Meanwhile, where’s Mark Canton? Heading back to the Warner Bros. fold. It’s a small world after all.

My First Online Column. June 6, 1997

Monday, June 11th, 2018

take one


 

Whole Picture

Chapter One: The Truth
“YOU WANT THE TRUTH?! YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH!!!” — Jack Nicholson, A Few Good Men

Jack Nicholas So, you want to know how show business really works? OK. Let’s start at the beginning. Attributing the quotation above to Jack Nicholson is a little like crediting your 6-year-old nephew with coming up with “Allllll- righty then!!!”

Jack Nicholson is an actor. A great actor. And the magic that he does, in cahoots with a whole lot of help, is to make you feel that he was really upset and reacted to Tom Cruise. But he didn’t. Not really.

Demi Moore See, Aaron Sorkin wrote a play that ran on Broadway and probably a dozen guys said those words eight times a week in various productions, but Rob Reiner went to the theater one night and liked what he saw, so he and his partners at Castle Rock, who had a lot of cash lying around from Japanese businessmen (see: Sony), who knew virtually nothing about how to make movies (see: Peter Guber/Jon Peters), bought the feature rights to the film and Reiner, who decided to direct Sorkin’s screenplay based on his play, talked Cruise into being in the movie, which led, in part, to Demi Moore and Nicholson joining the cast and then, one day, 80-odd people got together in a giant empty sound-proofed box (a soundstage) in Los Angeles that had a set in it designed to look like a real military court in Washington, D.C., and after they did a master shot (generally, all the actors doing the entire scene from start to end), Tom did his close-ups and then Jack did his close-ups and on some take, Nicholson said those words and the performance was great and the sound was good and there was no dirt in the gate (like hair in the projector at the movies) and Reiner said, “Print,” and the lab didn’t screw it up and the editors (Academy Award nominees Robert Leighton and Steve Nevius chose the close-up and spliced it together and every one of about a dozen people agreed that it worked and the composer (Marc Shaiman) created the mood music and the film was test-screened and audiences went wild when Nicholson went off and they used it to sell the hell out of the movie, which led you into a movie theater where you bought popcorn and Coca-Cola products and generated enough profit to convince Ted Turner to buy Castle Rock.

Run-on sentence, you say? Artistic license, I say.

And besides, you’re missing the point. THAT was the shortened version of how Jack ended up arching his brows and making your heart beat faster. I didn’t mention the screenplay development, the casting of secondary roles, the pre-production, the lighting, the electrics, the costumes, Demi Moore‘s bust in that uniform, the publicists, the caterers, the foley artists, the trailer producers and hundreds of other steps that help make magic.

John Cusack Magic. That word. Sleight of hand. Illusion. It’s the little things that you barely notice. Hair that doesn’t move in a stiff wind. Characters who never pass wind. Wind that blows at the moment the lovers part. It’s perfect skin and Joe Pesci‘s hairline. It’s perfect teeth and airbrushing so heavy that actors are unrecognizable (Minnie Driver and John Cusack are great-looking people, but who are those people in the Grosse Pointe Blank ads?). It’s photographing an actress only from the left side because she’s more Wicked Witch than Dorothy from the right. It’s Dennis Quaid‘s voice in Dragonheart … OK, that wasn’t so magical. But you get the point.

It’s also Tom Cruise.

Tom Cruise Absolute magic, that guy. Most of you will go to the movies to see him no matter what the movie is. That’s why he’s worth $20 million a picture to nervous studio chieftains. Because almost every time out, 3 or 4 million of you will pay for tickets the first weekend his movie opens. That’s movie magic. But what the hell do you really know about Tom Cruise? Almost nothing. He has charisma. He makes good choices about who he works with. Just look at his last dozen directors — Cameron Crowe (Jerry Maguire), Brian DePalma (Mission: Impossible), Neil Jordan (Interview With A Vampire, The Crying Game), Sydney Pollack (The Firm, Tootsie), Ron Howard (Far and Away, Apollo 13), Rob Reiner (A Few Good Men, When Harry Met Sally), Tony Scott (Days of Thunder, Crimson Tide), Oliver Stone (Born on the Fourth of July), Barry Levinson (Rain Man, Diner), Martin Scorsese (The Color of Money, GoodFellas) and, most recently, the Howard Hughes of directors, Stanley Kubrick (Eyes Wide Shut, 2001:A Space Odyssey). Only three of the dozen haven’t been Academy Award or Golden Globe nominees, and those three directed Cruise in mega- hits Mission: Impossible, Top Gun and Cocktail. Magic.

Tom Cruise Cruise also has the most powerful publicist in Hollywood by his side, Pat Kingsley of PMK. Bad buzz about homosexuality, Scientology, marital problems and “the squeaky voice machine” (A Scientology invention to make Tom’s voice more mellifluous, reportedly added to the equipment list of Far And Away) have all melted into the background as true-life tales of Tom saving lives, Tom defending Nicole and Tom winning a Golden Globe have taken center stage, no matter what the vultures of the press (me included) might prefer (it makes our job so much easier). Magic. Almost enough to make Tom … well … tall.

The truth is made of A-cup breasts and 3 feet of duct tape. It’s 49 years old and dates 23-year-olds. It can’t eat dairy and it’s two months late on its BMW lease payments. The truth was a high-priced call girl before she started playing virgins in the movies and became your bedroom fantasy for seven bucks a crack instead of $300. Like the old joke: A man asks a woman to sleep with him for $1 million and she says “yes.” Then he says, “Well how about for $5?” Offended, she says, “What do you think I am?” He responds, “I know what you are. We’re just negotiating the price.”

So now the real question: Can you handle the truth? If you can, I’ll write it for you, as best as I can, every week, right here. You want to know how the studio system really works? I’ll tell you. How is advertising designed to trick you into going to bad movies? I’ll tell you. How does Oprah‘s weight get the cover of the tabloids and a gay TV actress get the cover of Time? If you believe the tabloids got scooped, go to another site now. If you know better and want to know more, stick around. Hang with me and I’ll give you The Whole Picture. Bookmark it, baby! Questions? E-mail me, and I’ll do my best. But first, some answers: 1. Yes, they’re implants. 2. No, you can’t get paid for that, unless you can figure out how to light it. 3. Maybe, but I’ll need blood work results first.