Hot Button Archive for May, 2008

Whose Story Is It, Anyway?: 2008

I have great empathy for Latino Review and Collider, both of which stuck their neck out this week – and took the kind of tone that allows Traditional Media to marginalize them internally – and complained about specific cases of The Trades running news that these sites claim they already broke as new news and even Exclusive.
Anyone who has lived on the web for a while knows about this. It starts with The Trades and others not picking up on reports made online, even if they are able to confirm them with a phone call. Then there is a lull. Then, suddenly, the news “breaks” in the trades or the LA Times or wherever.
Sometimes, it is not an intentional game at all. MCN’s reporting on the many exits of film critics a month or so ago inspired the very web-friendly and smart and honest Sean P. Means of the Salt Lake City Tribune to make a simple list of the critics on his blog on April 2. It was a clever thing to do and with all the coverage we were doing here, we didn’t remember that lists always get more attention. Still, I saw dozens of news reports about “a newspaper in Salt Lake City made a list.” Happy for Sean… and a little grumpy, as most of the people who reported on The List were reading about the firings as a building issue – whether reported by a newspaper, by MCN, by STV, by Glenn Kenny himself, or whomever – on MCN.
That’s how it goes.
But I pretty much know that we were never going to hear “Movie City News, which has been covering this issue in depth for a year, made a list…” Not will we hear that the issue was put into play in Traditional Media by our coverage of it, culled from many reports.
If we culled, should we get credit? But isn’t that the rub of the medium as it currently exists?
The truth is, The Trades and other Traditional Media would rather go find silly little non-stories from little sites that no one reads or to hype personal friends who no one reads rather than ever even acknowledge the existence of web sites that have an audience. Some reluctantly were forced to acknowledge Nikki Finke, as she made herself part of the WGA Strike story. But even there… she used to be “one of them” and she still kisses ass to TM all the time. But basically, they live in the hope that by not talking about truly competitive New Media, it will go away… a familiar theme from the current election year battles.
The excuse, which I think is sometimes conscious and sometimes subconscious, is that to Traditional Media, the web = rumor, not reporting. And often, this is true. However, this is also true at The Trades and more often than ever, in Old Media.
It is fair to say that if you read something on the web, you, as a reporter, really need to check it out to see if it is valid. (In the era of the TM blog, however, more false crap is thrown into “legitimacy” by TM than ever.) It is unfair to say, however, that if you make the call and the studio/publicist/agent doesn’t want it to be publicized right then that the story never broke online.
The Trades are used to being first. And as much as LatinoReview wants to talk about how they scraped to report whatever story first – and the humorous part of all of this is that we are fighting over scraps, like the scoop on what Jason Reitman’s next film will be – like the trades, these things come into their lives because someone has a vested interest in talking. Someone’s assistant told someone. And at The Trades, it’s “someone’s agent told someone.” This isn’t brain surgery.
Still… the game is afoot. And if The Trades or some other TM hasn’t run it, information remains suspect in the industry. As a result, the leverage The Trades have remains in place. If someone wants to break something on a web site, The Trades may – and have – intentionally avoid repeating the story because they can’t claim the scoop. And it’s only fair to note that this has been true in the fight between Variety and The Hollywood Reporter for years… where a story that breaks ‘exclusively” in one gets buried or disappears in the other for weeks. The fact that The Trades can’t or won’t acknowledge that they are rarely serious about breaking news – and never about investigative reporting… and just occasionally about investigative thinking – is what makes for the hypocritical behavior. It’s the old “setting the price” joke.
We have seen a similar thing with Nikki Finke’s “box office coverage.” It started when one studio gave her “early” info on opening numbers and it got picked up on Drudge. Now, even though Nikki has no insight into or interest in box office – she always mocked people like me for covering it at all – she runs this studio bather weekly because with Drudge linking it, it is given legitimacy. And if you read her regularly, as I must, you will see that even when she is on one of her “sick days,” she somehow manages to “cover” the box office. It’s not news… it’s business for her. And understandably so. But while the early numbers are, in fact, coming out of a studio, which makes them fairly reliable, the spin attached is completely manipulated… and thus, pretty illegitimate.
This is the media field we are all running on these days…
And as whinny as Collider or Latino Review or I might sound complaining in any way, calling this stuff out is the only way to change it. These same outlets do feel compelled to acknowledge reporting from all media that they know they would be embarrassed by – mostly in private – if they didn’t tip the hat.
That brings up a different kind of issue for us at MCN, where we know that many sites get many of their links from MCN and rarely tip their hat. But we are sympathetic, because if they tipped their hat every time, it would look like they worked for us.
The rules of this culture are still in flux… politeness is not necessarily the model… professionalism is not necessarily the model… as usual, fear is the model.

The Indiana Jones & The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull Review (ALL Spoilers)

This is a SPOILER review page… or rather, SPOILER notes.
I’m not even going to post anything on this side of the fold. If you are ready to be SPOILER, proceed… if not, not.
You Have Been Warned!

Read the full article »

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The Indiana Jones & The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull Review (No Spoilers)

I’m going to leave spoilers for another review, though I would think that anything that indicates tone is spoiler enough for those who want to go into the film pure, as I chose to… as best I could, thanks to the NY Times.
And so…
The most striking thing to me about Indiana Jones & The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is that it is, in spite of claims otherwise made, a CG version of an Indiana Jones movie. And this changes a great deal about what was so very pleasurable about the first three films. Even then, post-Star Wars, they were throwbacks. Star Wars had many layered effects, but they had the limitations – beautiful limitations – of the pre-computer-driven effects universe. The Raiders franchise was about big sets and dramatic landscapes and stunts that were breathtaking, even if we knew that it wasn’t always Harrison Ford sliding underneath the truck.
We are still in the infancy of CG use at the movies, advanced as it feels. One of the recurring problems with all that visual power is that it gives filmmakers too many options. What does a director do? Well, they have a vision, they lead and army, but mostly, they fix problems. A movie like Speed Racer is really all about vision. There are problems solved, but all in the service of very clear, very detailed ideas. But on a movie like Iron Man, you really see the director as fixer… a big part of that fix being the freeing of Downey, Jr to riff and riff and riff and riff.
Steven Spielberg has been The Master Fixer. Jaws made him an instant legend with the shark that didn’t work. Close Encounters of the Third Kind is still beautiful, though quite simple by current visual effects standards, one of the biggest effects being a mountain of mashed potatoes. And even in Jurassic Park, which really ushered in the CG era, there was a limited number of big dino effects, which Spielberg used to ultimate effect, along with a parade of puppets and animatronics. Does anyone want to see Jaws with a CG shark? Does anyone need more than the light flooding the truck on the train tracks to get excited? Have the Jurassic sequels captured more heart by having more digital dinos?
On the other hand, I got into a similar whiplash situation with the most recent film in the Die Hard series. To me, a Die Hard movie, not unlike an Indiana Jones or Bond movie, is a regular guy in and extreme situation doing heroic and remarkable things, but never past the point of feet-on-the-ground, crazy-but-remotely-possible credibility. For me, Live Free Or Die Hard crossed that line with too much firepower, too much CG, too much of the incredible… just too much.
The magic of Indiana Jones isn’t dead… not with a senior citizen Harrison Ford (7 years older than when Sean Connery played his dad with a white beard)… not with the Nazis in the rear view… not with Spielberg also passing his 60th birthday. You can feel the Indy magic at various moments through this film.
However…
This simply is not the Indiana Jones film of our youths. It is not scrupulously light on CG effects and it often loses track of the storytelling while using the new medium to heighten instead of giving audiences the thrill of it feeling real. It gets distracted, sometimes in some very entertaining ways, from the formula that makes the series work. It adds characters that don’t reach past were the old movies went, but which demand excuses for their existence throughout.
One action sequence without much CG still offers a problem that feels as though it was created because the filmmakers were in the “anything goes” CG mindset. Thing is, if you do a major DG scene once amongst the naturalistic scenes, cool. But that’s just not the case.
The problem, aside from the CG, feels like it was lost in the story meetings. Someone needed to (or needed to better) sit down and work through the central storyline. What drives Indy through the story? What motivates the female villain of the piece? What can we do to make the motives of Indy’s sidekick more clear and natural? And do we get, in the Mutt character, a character who can really keep up physically with Indiana Jones… and if not, how can we make that failure fun… and any possible moments of overcoming it thrilling.
However…
There is plenty of entertainment in this movie. The skill with which Spielberg does many of the things he does is so far past some of the filmmakers who have made incredibly successful pictures, it’s remarkable. Not unlike Sex & The City (which runs 25 minutes longer), there are a lot of strings ties together in ways that are, generally satisfying.
I expect most audiences to be pretty happy with their Indiana Jones experience… especially the kids who haven’t ridden with the fedora and whip on a big screen before. (It kind of tells you how unbalanced things are at Paramount that the first three films were not re-released theatrically this winter and spring, like Star Wars was. Even if the run was half as successful as the Star Wars events, there was plenty of room in the last few months and it would have been a true pleasure to see them on screen again.)
It’s not a terribly movie by any standard… though there are some terrible moments. The issue of the Crystal Skull storyline that irked many pre-release critics is, to my eye, not a problem. I do have some problems with it not being quite as fun as I would have liked…. but more on that in the spoiler column. Shia LeBeouf survives this movie, though the idea of him “taking over” the bullwhip makes me indecisive about laughing or crying. LeBeouf is charming, but he is still a child actor and that hasn’t changed. If it changes in the years to come, who knows? But right now, he is blown off of the screen by Ford… as is appropriate in this film. (He does not come close to the level of energy that River Phoenix’s cameo at the top of the last film did.)
One of the funniest thoughts for the industry interested is that Spielberg suggests that the Paramount mountain is filled with furry little rodents.
The biggest problem, besides the CG, that really struck me watching the film a second time, was that they never quite figured out what being in his 50s (or his 60s, in reality) meant to Dr. Jones. The first film had the underscore of the romance with Marion. The second had the underscore of the still single professor investing both in his carnal side with the blonde and his parental heart, saving kids. The third film was the grown Dr. Jones as hampered and tehn empowered by being his father’s son.
There are some big story points in this one, but how Indy is different is not one of them. Yeah, he’s older. They keep telling us and him. But what motivates a guy of his age to keep going out there? You don’t have to linger on it for page after page of dialogue. But the girls aren’t painting “I heart You” on their eyelids anymore, some of those he has traveled with are dead of old age and other things, and if he is willing to, say, do this for an old friend, wouldn’t it be more interesting if it was more difficult to drag him in and ore exciting if finding his groove got him really excited again? Alternately, wouldn’t his desire for things men imagine having when they are nearing 60 be interesting?
This is mostly subtext, but it matters. It all becomes one with the whole. And watching the film, there is that feeling of “but what if?”. To argue the film isn’t good is kinda silly. But it is definitely a few disciples short of a last supper.

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Comments On Sex & The City (Though There Really Isn't An Embargo)

New Line has made the Lord of the Rings of Chick Flicks… not that it’s anywhere near as good, emotional, artistically made or worthy of box office or awards…
IT’S 2 HOURS AND 25 FUCKING MINUTES LONG!!!!
I’m not kidding!
Michael Patrick King didn’t make an extended episode of his series, Sex & The City… he made a whole damned season shoved into the phallic sausage casing of a near two and a half hour long epic of been-there-done-that.
That said, I am revising my box office estimates for the film to about double what was being bounced around the studio just a few weeks ago. In the last decade, I have never seen the New Line screening room this full… not for Rings… not for nothing. If the fire marshall had shown up, at least a dozen women would have been thrown out before they could show the film. And it was 88% women in the room. And 8% gay men. And me.
This movie will open big. Prada opened to $28 million. Look for this number to be more like $40 million. And for a total anywhere between $95 million and $125 million. I have no idea, really. And amazingly, for this comedy, based on a TV show, New Line could be costing itself millions in the first two weekends with this looooooong running time.
But I haven’t said much of anything about the film…
We were asked, before the screening, not to give away the surprises in the third act. And I won’t. But SURPRISES?!?!?!?! Really? To anyone who had ever seen a season of this HBO sitcom? Impossible!
I would be willing to be real money that if you took a poll of people who had seen at least one full season of the series, asking them for the 10 surprises they might suspect will happen in this feature film, at least 90% would get all 5 of the actual “surprises” in the film.
You want a review? Watch the DVDs of the series. There is not a single idea in this film that was not conceived, discussed, and beaten to within an inch of its life during the run of the show on HBO. Not ONE!
Nor was there a tick or a schtick or a flick that these four very good actresses haven’t done to within an inch of my vomit reflex on the show that isn’t recalled here… with little more. Maybe… maybe… SJP exhaustion make-up is the only new thing… but maybe they already did that… I know Mr. Broderick has. (All husbands have.)
And let me add this… Mr. King is perhaps the worst writer of dramatic dialogue that I have witnessed so far this year. Sparkling wit… yeah, he can do that. Drama? Horror. The only genuinely emotional moment I experienced in this film came to pass in a moment where the characters actually shut up for a couple of minutes and had what seemed to be a genuine moment. And yes, King wrote that too. But whoever told him to fill his movie with at least 50% an effort to be dramatic was very, very confused. It’s not what he does well.
Have I mentioned that this movie is not a spritely 98 minutes… or a long 110 minutes… or two frickin’ hours followed by long credits?
And of course, we get another utterly meaningless penis sighting! Thank God for women (and gay filmmakers) being able to objectify men just like men have always objectified women! That penis was really a major political moment for cinema!
And by the way… there was some gossip report about Kristin Davis NOT doing a shower scene in the film. She did the shower scene… wearing skin colored latex over her darker fleshy bits. Yawn. And we do get, as usual, to see everyone but “Carrie” have sex. Yawn redux.
This may, however, be the first time a release of excrement actually has its own music cue. You know, The Theme From Bridge Over The River Kwai, Princess Leia’s Theme, Diarrhea Joke! Fantastic stuff! Or as the movie tells you itself, “really, really funny!”
I expect the reaction of women to be much the same as the reaction to the last six episodes of the series. Some will be disappointed that it wasn’t more adventurous or profound. Some will love it because it is familiar and on-the-nose as a refrain of Happy Birthday (“Oh my god… I sang Charlie instead of Charles, like everyone else!” is about the level of complexity.) Some will wonder why all their friends are watching this crap.
But in a summer where Anne Hathaway is playing with boys and Meryl Streep is in a movie that Universal is now trying to sell to the High School Musical set with the unknown blonde girl and there is not really a single film for women of all ages all summer long… this one is going to be a big, stinky hit.
Can’t wait for Sex & The City: The Movie: Episode Two – The Same Shit One More Time For 3 Full Hours in 2010 in which Samantha is actually in a coma through the whole film and appears in a total of four scenes with Sarah Jessica Parker, blinking out her dirty jokes, with a catheter that looks a lot like a dildo and makes her blink really fast when it is turned on.
Really, really funny.

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The Trouble With Trouble

We are in some rough water, folks.
There is no question.
The indie world is being squeezed, doc side first. The studios are trying to trim down to what works while dumping out of most of the funding responsibilities. And some are in serious trouble.
There are two stories on the web today that may be 100% true… but also concern me deeply. It’s not about pulling back the curtain. That’s the job. But there is a kind of malignancy in the idea that what has always been gossip is now being published by bloggers as “news”… and then, followed up on, even without any real confirmations of anything nefarious, as a way of self-glorifying… even getting down to the “send me your complaints about people who pay you late so I can humiliate them too!” gamesmanship. But who can blame Ms Finke for her gutter urges. They have gotten her so much attention so far!
When AJ Schnack sends out a blog entry as “BREAKING,” when it is, in fact, neither breaking or news, you have to wonder. Again… the unnamed sources who are trying to get paid – and there has been quiet talk that Think paid Alex Gibney off almost completely after he ran a threat through Stu Van Airsdale at Defamer – may be telling the story 100% straight. Or they may not.
The reason there are rules in journalism on sourcing is not because some crazy ass sources are not sometimes right… but because once someone is smeared in the press, it is hard to take it back.
Capitol and Think may be going under. They may not. But the feeding frenzy around their troubles tends to make a lot of assumptions… some of which may be true and others which may not be.
Crazy Nikki, on the other hand, is dancing on The Weinstein Company, thrilled to be getting calls from Harvey to respond to the anonymous gossip she ran yesterday. Again… The Weinsteins may be in deep trouble. They may not be in that much trouble. We don’t know anything for sure, other than they have been a bit cash strapped from the beginning of their new company and that the savior, Grindhouse, didn’t save anything.
Of course, Nikki is taking responsibility for shaming The Weinsteins into paying their bills. Yeah.
And she is running an EXCLUSIVE!!! statement from the DGA that is spectacularly vanilla and does not suggest the trouble that Nikki was trying so hard to stir up:
“The DGA has had a long and productive working relationship with The Weinstein Company and its predecessor. It is sometimes the case, with various companies, that residuals payments are late. We are working directly with TWC to resolve this issue and see that our members receive prompt residuals payments.”
But hey… Nikki may still get a “Toldja” out of it. But as a journalist, it would be nice if she actually found some news in here… like actually knowing whether there is a cash crunch involved at TWC. She cannot and does not offer this. And that is the only thing that would rise in any of this past the level of insider gossip of the most obvious level.
And now, she wants more of the same… unidentified people complaining about who owes them money.
This is what passes as journalism.
And keep this in mind… this is not an abstract issue for me. We carry payables from many studio advertisers and the financial issues at both large and small distributors are of real concern. But it would never occur to me to embarrass these people or companies publicly as tool to reach my personal business ends. I can handle my business like a businessperson… and my journalism as a journalist. News is news and no one gets away without scrutiny. But gossip is just gossip.

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Speed Racer Review

Dancing on the cutting edge is a unique challenge. Just pushing the envelope can draw attention, but as we often see, it is really easy to get caught up in simply stunting.
The Wachowski Bros have turned expectations upside down in four of their five films so far. First, in Bound, they pushed the lipstick lesbian into a studio movie before anyone else, with a lot of flash and style (the style not being as breakthrough, as it was reminiscent of some of The Coens’ work.) The Matrix defined action for years after its release, melding Asian cinema with kink and American grime (with an Australian accent). And while there were some critical brickbats, The Matrix Reloaded pushed the envelope even further in new ways, building image creation ideas that still have not been topped.
And now, Speed Racer.
Speed Racer spins some people’s heads right near off their axis. But to be unable to see the complexity of the imagery is to fail to appreciate the depth of what The Wachowskis are doing here.
The Matrix took a lot of ideas from Japanese anime’, but kept its feet on the ground, allowing for the fantastical, but keeping most of the film in the mind’s eye of real people. The first rule of Speed Racer is that we live in a world of all kinds of visceral inputs and we have learned to leap from one to another… why can’t we do that in a movie?
The actors are real, including the scene-stealing monkey, Chim-Chim. But very little else, except the pancakes, is. And while the racing scenes – which is probably most of what you’ve seen, if you haven’t yet seen the film – are exciting and brain-straining and have what, to me, is the desired movie effect… they have you shifting with the vehicles in your movie seats… it is the more intimate sequences that are at the heart of Speed Racer.
You will know whether this is a movie that will stay in your heart early on, when young Speed imagines himself racing. I won’t give away what the imagery of the scene is, but if you find yourself as charmed as delighted as I did, put on your seatbelt, because you’re in for a great ride.
The story is simple. The Racer family is Pops and Mom and Rex and Speed. They are one of the last truly independent racing teams in the world. Speed, like Rex before him, is recognized as one of the great emerging drivers in the world. Will they sell out to the massive corporation… or not?
That’s pretty much it.
But you are already into some strong stuff, because The Wachowskis are not satisfied to make a simple action racing movie. The moral dilemma of good and evil and how you choose to live your life is there in every frame. For some, it’s redemption. For others, it is proving themselves. And for others, it is about holding onto ideals so tightly that they have lost perspective. And they aren’t shy about embracing the power of love in their film. The love of parents for their children, children for their parents, sexy but not sexual love between young men and women, and the love of family in general are at the heart of this film. There is no winning of The Race just to win a race. The stakes are high and then higher and then higher again.
The core of it all is family love and commitment. Speed Racer is, amazingly, a Pixar film with a bit more aggression. But if you felt it as Marlin went to find Nemo or were elated when Remy’s family came to save his butt in the most unexpected way in Ratatouille, you will feel The Racers.
Then there are the bad guys.
In a cartoon universe of bright colors and impossible physics, it is hard to create a villain that can not only talk a lot, but can break through the visual clutter. The Wachowskis do it by, again, raising the stakes.
And really… who can resist ninjas?
Did I mention… Speed Racer is a whole lot of fun.
You could complain about the car not looking like they are of a realistic weight (they look at lot more so in IMAX), but that complain loses relevance when you realize – as you have to – that reality is not where these races live. They are you and your best friend playing with Matchbox cars on a rainy Saturday, racing and smashing and crashing all over.
The fights are the same way. And the same way one of you would inevitably play a little too hard and smash a toe or slam your head into the wall or otherwise do Boy Damage, your mom and dad are there to make you feel better when you do… only it’s Speed’s Mom and Pops. Spritle and Chim-Chim are everyone’s irritating precocious brothers. Trixie is every boy’s fantasy of a girl who is loving and sexy and able to handle a wrench when need be.
And did I mention, the visuals will blow you away. You truly have never seen anything like it before. And just when you think it’s too much, some new idea comes flying at you and you are blown away all over again.
The Wachowskis did what all smart filmmakers who are looking for a way to bring familiar music alive and renewed do. They hired Michael Giacchino, who takes the themes of the cartoon and makes them both familiar and new to us, while adding plenty of his own new music. And the credit sequence, as in most of Giacchino’s films, is a treasure trove of stuff that didn’t fit into the film, but is well worth the sit through many, many credits. In this case, that includes a new version of the old theme and a pop tune built around the Japanese version of the original theme.
The cast is pretty much perfection. Emile Hirsch brings a light touch to Speed. The Christina Ricci/Susan Sarandon similarity in looks as Trixie and Mom makes for some good Oedipal goofiness than no kid will ever get. Who else but John Goodman could be Pops Racer? And Paulie Litt is a perfect Spritle, but equally good are the kids who play Young Speed and Young Trixie, Nicholas Elia and Ariel Winter.
There is a great cast outside of the family as well. Matthew Fox kills as Racer X, embodying the stiffness of the cartoon character. Roger Allam, who you might recall from V for Vendetta, is the smiling snake oil billionaire, Mr. Royalton. And The Wachowskis fill the film with international familiar/unfamiliar faces, like Moritz Bleibtreu, Richard Roundtree, Togo Igawa, the original She-Devil Julie Wallace, and Korean pop-star Rain.
But it is The Wachowskis who are the stars of Speed Racer. Their use of the virtual camera is well beyond anything we have ever seen in a movie theater before. The topper to that virtuosity, however, is the most shocking thing about Speed Racer… it’s a truly great family film, even if it is 10 minutes too long. It’s a sweet CG treat in a retro summer. While there is zero question that it will be burning up TV screens in family homes for decades to come, I actually think that it will stick with adults of discretion long after the stomach ache of sweetness wears off.

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The Billion Dollar Paramount '08 Illusion

Paramount is not the first studio to suffer their success. But we are getting a wave of spin from a few voices that seems to be deep in the bag with the denizens of Melrose.
Here’s the deal…
Go back to 1999… Fox releases The Phantom Menace. It “won” the summer, grossing $138 million more domestically than any other film. But all Fox had the rest of the way was Lake Placid and Brokedown Palace, a breakeven comedy and a red ink drama. A $472 million summer meant net revenues for the studio of about $50 million… and roughly another $50 million from Star Wars’ international release.
In 2001, Fox had Planet of the Apes and Disney had Pearl Harbor. The Apes did around $180 million domestic and Pearl just under $200m. Apes barely broke even in DVD and Pearl Harbor was saved by international box office with another $250m… but just barely. It, too, needed Home Entertainment to get out of the red.
(Ed Note: 5/6/08: The graph above was edited to reflect a $20 million mistake on the Pearl Harbor domestic gross.)
Sony’s billion dollar summer of 2002 – Spider-Man was a cash cow. But Men in Black II carried such a weighty burden of gross point players and an expensive pricetag that $450 million worldwide didn’t come close to making it profitable. Stuart Little II was so expensive that when it didn’t hit, it drained cash from the company. And Revolution Studio’s heavily hyped xXx managed only $277 worldwide… which left it gasping for every ancillary dime to hover near breakeven.
2003 – Terminator 3, Bad Boys 2, Hulk, and Charlie’s Angels 2 were all $100 million domestic grossers that were extremely expensive and/or had big gross players and may or may not have hit black.
2006 – Warner Bros became the poster child for avoiding trouble by selling off the costs of production to funding organizations. Superman Returns lost over $50 million… but not for Warner Bros. They sold off half the huge production budget then collected their distribution fees and marketing fees before any money went back to production, covering their part of the loss. The sold off at least half of Poseidon. The also covered their butts via Legendary, in the cases of Lady In The Water, The Ant Bully, and Beerfest.
You might remember that it was only a few years ago when Sherry Lansing and financial architect Jon Dolgen were getting creamed in the media for not risking enough, finding financial partners on pretty much every single movie they made for Paramount.
That complaint could emerge again this summer, as their four biggest likely grossers this summer are all deals that will not be terribly profitable for the studio.
First up is Iron Man. Marvel stock rose almost 10% today. Paramount’s part of the split Viacom stock? Down 2.6%.
Why? Because Marvel funded the film and Paramount will make no profit except for a distribution fee.
Indiana Jones? Funded by Paramount, but to get the movie made, they gave away 87.5% of the movie to Lucas/Spielberg/Ford after breakeven. So if the film makes $500 million worldwide, no one makes anything, except for Paramount’s and the producers’ overhead costs. But if the film makes $1 billion worldwide, Paramount will make about $70 million, while L/S/F takes home over $450 million. And this is before DVD and other ancillaries.
Kung Fu Panda is DreamWorks Animation. Paramount has a 10% distribution fee (which they paid to get) coming to them… and that’s it. So if the film matches a movie like Madagascar and does $500 million worldwide? $50 million to Paramount… hundreds of millions to DreamWorks animation.
And Tropic Thunder, which is one of the most dangerous of the films in play, a broad comedy with a production cost of just around $100 million, is a DreamWorks film made with Viacom money. So if this film can find profitability… which is a question mark… Ben Stiller will be eating a nice percentage of the back end. (If the film does Dodgeball business, $170 million worldwide, it is still a question mark to break even, even with DVD.)
(Graph above edited for budget and gross players, 5/6)
So… if these four films were to actually push Paramount distribution up over $2 billion in worldwide grosses for the summer, the studio is looking at around $150 million in net revenues.
$2 billion is an impressive number. Less than 10% profit on that number, which is about as good as it gets on a macro level, is not.
Success and failure in the film business is not being terribly well reported these days. The big story is, as it has been for a couple of years now, that the multinationals that own the studios are getting out of the business of funding movies. There is too much risk there, while distribution and marketing is profitable, even if the movie is a loser.
The trick is to own the movies that the studio feels are near-locks outright. This is Warners’ great success on Harry Potter. Not only does it generate a gross of at least $800 million worldwide each time, but they own the franchise, with only the author getting a big bite. That said, Warners has been selling off a lot of stuff as well. This summer’s The Dark Knight is split with Legendary.
Disney has one split, Prince Caspian and one owned film (though it’s Pixar, so there are probably some personal points in play), Wall-E.
And Sony stands to have the movie that is most profitable for any studio this summer with Hancock, which they own outright, though Will Smith and James Lassiter’s Overbrook Entertainment will eat a big piece of the gross… though not nearly as much as on Indy.
In fact, Sony has the real chance of being the most profitable studio of the summer while not being close to the top in gross. They have Hancock. They have Adam Sandler, whose box office clout and limits the company knows quite well. Step Brothers was made on a tight budget. And they have two lower budget films with a lot of potential upside in The House Bunny and Pineapple Express.
And that, in the end, is the game. Amy Pascal learned this lesson years ago. You don’t give up everything for an image success. Profits first. All else is publicity.

Is Hollywood Stepford Or Just Doing Business?

It seems like we all need a reminder of some of the basic rules of Hollywood… again.
I will proceed down that track at another time, but the thought hitting my brain pan today is this one…

Hollywood is neither monolithic nor terribly interested in the content of what they sell.

The brilliant – and that is a straight forward compliment – Manohla Dargis makes this miscalculation extravagantly in her “Where are the women at?” piece in the Summer Preview at The New York Times this weekend.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with pointing out that there is, as there has been for year after year, a dearth of movies with female leads in the summer season. Never mind the ironic truth that this summer has more women in lead roles than has been the norm, as Hollywood chases – 2 summers later – the The Devil Wears Prada dollars that they didn’t believe were there in nine figures until it happened.

But the urge of Manohla, as it is for most critics, I find, is to ascribe some sort of intent on the part of “The Industry.” This, I disagree with… no matter how vacuous, silly, vain, arrogant, misogynistic, and foolish execs can be.

“Hollywood” is driven, before anything, by trends. It is one of the troubles of Hollywood, as there is this 18 month to 3 year lag in bringing studio films to market and trend chasing can be absolutely deadly. But still, they do it over and over and over again.

The only $100 million movie defined by a female lead last summer was Hairspray… and one could argue that the female lead was a man in a dress. (I would argue that Nikki Blonsky was the lead, but Travolta was very effective bait. In any case…)

The same reality was there in Pre-Prada 2005, when only Mr. & Mrs. Smith – arguably a two-headed phenom – was the only $100 million summer movie with a female lead.

Of the 28 films last year that grossed $100 million domestic, a total of 3 had female leads.

In 2006, there were three $100 million female-led grossers – the three lowest grossers on that list – one was Dreamgirls, a very specific kind of ensemble with little star-launching power, one was The Break-Up, starring the real Mrs. Pitt with the Wedding Crashers-hot Vince Vaughn, and Prada.

In 2005, there were only 4 movies with female leads with $100 million domestic… and all 4 had the women as co-stars with dominant male performances (Johnny Cash in Walk The Line, Jim Carrey in Fun With Dick & Jane, Pitt as Mr to Jolie’s Mrs Smith, and King Kong dominating Ms. Watts).

That is the trend line.

Read the full article »

Quote Unquotesee all »

“I never accepted the term contrarian. I think that’s offensive, frankly. And my response to that is: if I’m a contrarian, what are other reviewers? What I strive to do is be a good critic, not somebody who simply accepts the product put in front of me. I guess it scares people to think that they don’t have any originality; that they don’t have the capacity to think for themselves.

“There’s a line a lot of reviewers use that I don’t like at all. They say ‘accept the film on its own terms.’ What that really means is, ‘accept the film as it is advertised.’ That’s got nothing to do with criticism. Nothing to do with having a response as a film watcher. A thinking person has to analyze what’s on screen, not simply rubber-stamp it or kowtow to marketing.”m

“To me, everything does have a political component and I think it’s an interesting way to look at art. It’s one way that makes film reviewing, I think, a politically relevant form of journalism. We do live in a political world, and we bring our political sense to the movies with us – unless you’re the kind of person who goes to the movies and shuts off the outside world. I’m not that kind of person.”
~ Armond White to Luke Buckmaster

“One of comedy’s defining pathologies, alongside literal pathologies like narcissism and self-loathing, is its swaggering certainty that it is part of the political vanguard, while upholding one of the most rigidly patriarchal hierarchies of any art form.”
~ Lindy West