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Netflix, Nielsen, and The Elephant In The Room

The Wall Street Journal broke the news that Nielsen will attempt —and likely claim to be 96% accurate regardless—to measure Netflix, Amazon Prime and other streaming viewership numbers using a clever technical trick. Of course, the focus is on knowing what Netflix numbers are to figure out how to best manipulate advertisers on traditional ad-driven television as ratings drop.

Big picture, we are told in the WSJ article, is that content owners are trying to figure out if Netflix cannibalization of their MVPD (cable/satellite) ratings is costing them money versus the prices being paid by Netflix, which are quite high, but perhaps not high enough.

Is this another tipping point? Could be. Might not be.

I think everyone agrees that the genie is out of the bottle. Streaming is not going away. But the issue isn’t really Netflix, but the long tail. Broadcast networks, owned by content producers all, aren’t competing against Netflix and the other streamers. They are competing against reruns. Yes, a new Netflix show may get a lot of attention and even a lot of eyeballs in its first month of release. But that’s not, if reports are to be believed, keeping Netflix on the average subscriber’s TV 60 hours a month. Some docs. Some movies via various movie deals. But mostly, it’s television reruns.

And here is The Elephant.

Netflix doesn’t come close to having the entire back catalog of content. I would guess—and mind you, it is just an educated guess—that Netflix content, as massive a bundle… uh, package as it is, is less than 10% of the television catalogs available. And less than 2% of the movie catalogs.

Netflix has been a great piece of business for content owners. Streaming and the subscription-based financial model are a major paradigm shift. But as the DVD sell-thru business peaked out, there was a softer landing thanks for Netflix and the other streaming companies that followed and also spent wildly. Now, the content creators are waking up to The Elephant… what to do with all this catalog content that isn’t generating revenue now?

Everything on demand was mostly inconceivable any time before 2000. Remember, consumer VHS is less than 40 years old. DVD is less than 20 years old. The tech for more and more streaming is still developing. The single moment viewership of the broadcast networks are still more than the internet can effectively handle. Every time viewership for an event online exceeds a couple of million, the trouble seems to begin. That has improved and will continue to improve. But that’s just normal progress coming. Different, less invasive issue.

There is a lot of chatter—endless chatter—about giving consumers what they want. Well… it’s simple. Consumers want whatever they want within seconds of realizing they want it in the absolute best visual and audio quality in which it is available and for free.

So, let’s take “free” off the table.

Households are spending $80-120 a month to feel like they have the maximum amount of content at their fingertips. Some pay less. Some pay more. Some don’t buy any of it. But basically, that is the range. That is the market. In the US, say $90 a month in 90 million homes makes for a $100 billion a year business opportunity. There are more dollars in both software and hardware, but those (like theatrical movies) are extra opportunities, not the biggest bite.

How many people are watching Netflix and how is that affecting ratings on TV Show X could well be a $25 million a year issue for a network. That’s not nothing. But the big issue isn’t over tens of millions, but tens of billions.

For a big company with a big library, like any of the major studios or Lionsgate, aside from math quibbles over which outside businesses get paid what on which pieces of content, the goal is to maximize the value of that library in any and every way possible. There is nothing siting in the vault accumulating value by being unavailable anymore. Yesterday, there was a press day in Hollywood for a Stanley Kubrick package of films released on Blu-ray… which they have already released a couple times. I’m sure there was some new tidbit in there, but DVD/Blu-ray maximized the opportunity to close to the final degree years ago. The only thing left to do is to invest millions in restoring a lot of films to their original glory. But, sadly, that is becoming a niche business as well.

The simple and incredibly simplified math on Netflix is that it has about a third of US TV households signed up, generating about $3 billion a year and spending about $2 billion a year on programming. That is about $60 a year in content spending per household served. Obviously, this is not a big enough boat for everyone to get aboard. And even if the subscriber based tripled, which has been Netflix’s long-term plan (according to them, on record), it’s still not nearly big enough for everyone.

There are many big players invested in the various ways of selling content. But for library owners, there is only one issue. Again… maximizing revenues for that forever aging content.

Netflix knows that. The reason Netflix is experimenting so aggressively is not because there is a business model in which, for instance, day-’n'-date theatrical/Netflix release makes sense in a way that will really threaten wide-release theatrical films. They are looking for their next model, for two reasons. First, they know that much, much more aggressive competition is coming. The more Netflix grows, the more quickly and aggressively direct competition from the major studios will come. Second, they have first-mover advantage at this point. But in order to keep it, they need to continue to be seen as innovative.

But the real onus is on the television networks and movie distributors. They each have similar revenues to Netflix and a constantly changing profile of how they generate revenues. And there are a ton of deals already in place that have end dates that need to be lined up before they can be leveraged. But there will be a tipping point.

If, say, CBS, could start a streaming platform with shows they have dealt to Netflix, like Cheers, Frasier, Twin Peaks, Family Ties, The Andy Griffith Show, Star Trek, Twilight Zone, Hawaii Five-O, and so many others, plus newer shows, plus the Showtime catalog, plus (assuming Sumner Redstone can muster the strength to bring the two sides of his company in line), the Paramount film catalog and the Nickelodeon catalog and the MTV catalog, etc, etc… and they charged half of what Netflix is charging, could they get to the same 35 million subscriber plateau in a hurry and generate $1.6 billion a year and have complete control of their content?

Thing is, that probably isn’t enough to entice Viacom to make the move right now. But triple that number to 105 million homes and $4.8 billion… all on library content. CBS generates about 3x that, but its costs are so significant that it “only” nets about $1.6 billion a year.

Imagine a world with 5 “Netflixes,” costing about $50 a month and live ad-supported TV costing another $50 a month and you might be looking at the not-so-distant future. Upgrade to ad-free TV (except for live programming) for another $40 a month (or another $480 million each year per million subscribers coming to the provider) and you can imagine the opportunity.

Of course, it will likely be some variation in my imagination and/or others. But my point is, there is a lot of potential revenue out there and it has not begun to be mined in depth by Netfilx or Amazon or any combination of these companies. That revenue, not consumer wishes, will drive the future.

But we are waiting for the tipping point. And when it comes, the networks will stop picking Netflix’s nits and mind their own.

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BYOB 111614

byobglobes

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Weekend Estimates by 20 Years Later Klady

Weekend Estimates 2014-11-16 at 10.24.21 AM

Pretty nice box office weekend overall.

Let’s start with… Warner Bros is kicking itself this weekend. Not only did they lose out on a relatively cheap hit movie, but they gave up on a franchise that defined their New Line division. There were only fifteen $100m domestic movies in the history of New Line and D&D was one of them. Look for the long slumbering resurrection of The Mask to suddenly heat up.

This is also an excellent way to track the change in the box office from 20 years ago until today. The 1994 movie was #1 for 4 weekends through the Christmas movie period, opening on December 16. The top weekend gross by D&D during that run was $16.4 million. What is roughly the same weekend last year had 3 or 4 (depending on which weekend you choose to match) films grossing over $16 million and one of those films grossing over $30 million.

Comparing this opening to other openings in the second weekend of November hammock, you find almost all franchise films trying to squeeze an extra week in before a Thanksgiving Day payoff. Twilight, Potter, Bond. 2012 and Happy Feet are the the anomalies. And then, you have D&D2. In that company, D&D2 is an extremely impressive opening.

More to come…

3:26p – Apologies. My Firefox browser has become unwieldy and it seems I have to switch to another. Trying Chrome now.

Big Hero 6 has the 2nd best 10-day number for a November Disney animation release behind only Frozen. There have only been 3 Pixar releases in November and BH6 is behind 2 of them, The Incredibles and Toy Story 2, though just barely on the latter. So things are going quite well, if not singularly.

Interstellar is doing well… though it’s 3rd and 4th weekend are not going to intimidate Hunger Games or even Horrible Bosses Deux. The film should hit $100m domestic tomorrow. The film’s already at $224m internationally, so they are doing well there. If you look at Inception, from the time the film had a $28m weekend, there would only be another $55m in the tank. And that film only had one drop of over 40% before weekend 13 domestically, so I don’t foresee anything better for Interstellar. Even with Thanksgiving coming, $150 million domestic seems the likely domestic total… maybe $160m. Worldwide, $600 million would be a positive-leaning total. Not chickenfeed. But it’s against a very big investment.

Action movies took the biggest hit in the Top 20 this weekend. Not brutal, but decent holds across the board for the other genres.

Birdman continues to lead the limited scene on 857 screens with an estimated $2,830 per and $2.4 million.

Foxcatcher opened on 6 screens to a strong $46k per screen. The hard road for this excellent-but-challenging film is ahead.

Rosewater opened on 371 screens and did a nice $3,180 per for $1.2 million.

The Homesman did $11.5k per on 5 screens, which is not bad.

And Nightcrawler, which feels pretty indie, but is on 2103 screens, pulled in another $2.9 million and is just under $25m so far.

Godard’s Goodbye To Language continues to draw a hardcore crowd.

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Friday Estimates by Klady & Kladier To

Friday Estimates 2014-11-15 at 9.09.28 AM

So… there is clearly an audience for the return of the real D&D guys. Huzzah.

$20m+ second weekends for both Big Hero 6 and Interstellar. Good. Not game changing… but good.

Beyond The Lights is soft… though the outdoor is beautiful. The problem is, the pitch really made the film not only unlikely to draw white people, but a turn off to black men.

Nice holds throughout the Top 10, no one down more than 50%.

Birdman is seeing the top of the box office mountaintop, unless the awards push gives it a second life. And 85% increase in screens and an estimated 3% growth in box office tells us that there is a finite universe for the film. Searchlight went out earlier and has been much more aggressive than on, say, Slumdog Millionaire. I think they know there is a cap on the box office success of the film, are pushing to get a nice number, will narrow the screen count after Thanksgiving, then see what happens with awards.

Foxcatcher is the per-screen hero of the weekend with what looks like $35k or so on its 5 screens. The Homesman is chasing $10k per screen on 4. Decent numbers for both, but again, not thrillers. Sony Classics will keep building Fox and look for it to expand its base with awards wins.

17 Comments »

Weekend Estimates by Big Space Klady 6

Weekend Estimates 2014-11-09 at 9.06.41 AM

Based on Friday, nothing remotely surprising is going on with the estimates. Family movies expand significantly over Saturday and Sunday. Films for the over-12 set tend to pop a little on Saturday then drop a bit on Sunday making for some variation on 3x Friday. Box office 101. There are outliers, as there are for all things. But when the animated film is less than 10% behind the live-action non-family film on Friday, bet on the animated film to win that battle over the 3-day.

Big Hero 6 is a good opening. Interstellar is a good opening. They are both within the Top 26 of all-time amongst November openings. And neither is in the Top 15 or best in class for the first weekend of the month or anything else super-special. For Big Hero 6, this suggests a $200m+ domestic gross. For Interstellar, it suggests something like a $150m domestic gross.

Additionally, the domestic suggests somewhere between $300m and $400m international for Interstellar (handled by Warner Bros). And then there will be the question… if Interstellar does less than $500m or $600m worldwide (vs $826m for Inception), is it a winner or a loser for Christopher Nolan? And how does it affect the funding of the next movie? And the “it’s Chris Nolan’s world and we are all just his serfs” stories?

Big Hero 6, by the way, looks like $600m worldwide at minimum. The film is kissing cousins with anime’ and it could be unusually huge overseas… or not. Time will tell.

Those two films made up 68% of the total domestic box office this weekend. Only two films in 24 next highest grosses did over $3000 per screen – Birdman ($4850 per on 462) and Whiplash ($3660 on 88).

On the under 100 screen scene, The Theory of Everything found a solid start on 5 screens with $41k per. Citizenfour continues to draw nicely with $3580 per on 59 screens. And in exclusives (1 or 2 screens) Godard’s Goodbye To Language and Wiseman’s National Gallery continue to be strong.

Back to the wide releases, Gone Girl, St Vincent, and Fury were the strong holders. The rest were all over 40% (aside from low-count hits like Guardians and Turtles finding a new wave from second run).

Look for Big Hero 6 to “win” next weekend too. The real mystery will be the size of the audience that will show up for a Dumb & Dumber sequel.

This is, I have to say, not a very exciting Thanksgiving window. Congrats if you are a Hunger Games fan, but aside from that, there is a Penguins spin-off which will surely be popular and a Horrible Bosses sequel, but nothing really interesting to dig into. If you want film excitement over the holiday, it’s the arthouse fare, with Foxcatcher, Rosewater, The Homesman, The Imitation Game, and continued expansions of Birdman, Whiplash, and The Theory of Everything. Given that I have seen all of those movies more than once already, I am hungry for a Tim Burton or a Wachowski or something challenging on the long weekend after the turkey. Looks like I will be one of the many sneaking into guild screenings of Unbroken or checking out Into The Woods a second time or seeing Birdman or Foxcatcher a third time if I want something really exciting to chew on.

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Friday Estimates by InterHero Len

Friday Estimates 2014-11-08 at 9.58.18 AM

So… another weekend in which the #1 movie is not the #1 movie on each day of the weekend. Happened last weekend too. Then this week, Nightcrawler “won” Monday and Tuesday, the non-digital limited launch of Interstellar “won” Wednesday, Fury “won” Thursday and now, Interstellar‘s expansion “wins” Friday while Big Hero 6 will surely “win” Saturday and Sunday.

Being #1 really is meaningless aside from its marketing value. And that’s not even taking in the reality of international box office domination into account. If you are reading this, you know my routine on this… but still… demand better from your “box office analysts.” Not having a sophisticated view of box office in 2014 is an abuse of readers, wholly separate from whether people agree on the ultimate meaning of the numbers.

Anyway… strong starts, but not overwhelming starts for both Interstellar and Big Hero 6.

The 10 best launches in November are all after the first weekend of November. The five best openings on the first weekend of November are 4 animated films, ranging from $49 million to $70.5 million. The top live-action opening on the first weekend of November is also the only one to open to more than $45 million is The Matrix Revolutions, with $48.5 million. The #2 in this category is American Gangster with $43.6 million.

So Big Hero 6 has started right between the animated Ralph and Monsters. Figure mid-50s.

Interstellar will surely pass Gangster, but will probably be a little short of Matrix 3 (which by the way, siphoned off $35m of its opening weekend on Wed-Thurs)… but close. Could be anywhere $46m – $49m. It would not be surprising at all for the estimate tomorrow to be over $49 million and the “actual” to be $48m or less. And, of course, this film will have much better legs than Matrix 3. Also, for the record, this opening is about 23% off of the summer opening of Inception.

No one else will see $7 million this weekend.

Many of the Friday estimates are seeming better than they otherwise would because of Halloween last Friday.

Ouija continues to hold unexpectedly well. Can you say, “girls”? 44% is one of the bigger drops on the board… but it’s horror… in its third weekend.

Gone Girl has gone into second run, boosting their take Friday-vs-last-Friday by 2% yesterday and probably something similar tomorrow.

Nightcrawler had a pretty good Friday after opening drop, even with Interstellar coming in strong. High 30s drop is where this will probably land, which is actually quite good.

Fury is the silent hit of the season. The film is over $100m worldwide already and will pass the worldwide on Moneyball by the end of the weekend… domestic in a few weeks.

Nice hold for St. Vincent.

In the limited release market, Focus’ The Theory of Everything will do mid-30ks per-screen on 5 this weekend. Solid, but not overwhelming.

Birdman is up to 462 screens and looking at around $4k per for the weekend.

Nothing exciting for well-loved films Actress and National Gallery.

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BYOB 110514

byobobamalincoln650

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Weekend Estimates by Not Quite Crawler Klady

Weekend Estimates 2014-11-02 at 9.04.46 AM

So Saturday was as strong as Friday was soft and the weekend looks surprisingly strong overall. If you look back at the last Friday Halloween, the numbers didn’t recover nearly as well over the rest of the weekend, not just for the new films but for the holdovers.

Even today, it is possible that Nightcrawler will win the weekend. $200k isn’t that hard to overcome on a day and as you all know, these Sunday a.m. estimates can’t actually know what the Sunday numbers will be. And for a movie estimating a $10m weekend, you’re looking, roughly, a $3m Sunday estimate, meaning that a 10% shift is completely possible. Burt give it up for Ouija for even being in the fight. Even if the drop ended up being 50% and not Klady’s estimated 45%, that’s really good for a horror film these days.

Strong hold for Fury, blowing past Moneyball by $11 million after their respective first 3 weekends, the space between the two growing each weekend. Sony… this is a Best Picture movie. Time to get on the stick. $80 million is now a likely low-end guess at the total gross for this film domestically and there could be more with a serious Oscar push. And looking at the awards field, it would be one of the top grossing nominees if you turned this trick. Get going.

Gone Girl is another holdover monster. If nominated, it will likely be the 2nd highest grossing film on the board (#1 should be Interstellar… unless it stalls and/or if Exodus ends up being a serious Oscar film). Fox kinda overpromised on release, but it’s about time for a serious re-positioning of the film in the awards race. Audiences matter a lot in the Oscar race when they love a film. And for all the quality being rolled out right now, this is still a hot audience film. Use that.

The glorious animated film, The Book of Life, is holding firm, even if it doesn’t have the support it deserves from Fox.

Nice hold for St. Vincent. The film had a, roughly, 10% screen expansion this weekend, but the -2% hold is still very strong. TWC has to be happy with the weekend. The question is still, however, has the film peaked or is there more?

And Disney’s well-regarded family outing, Alexander & The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is staying sticky, the only film in wide release besides Book of Life really good for the whole family… especially the littler ones. By this time next week, it will become the #1 non-animated, non-Marvel movie for Disney this year domestically.

The Maze Runner cume is going to get to $100 million, which seems surprising as the title has barely been whispered since opening weekend. International is heading to $200 million. So, a $300m+ franchise on the first film. And it was made on what appears to be a very tight budget. So that is a massive hit, in terms of profitability.

Birdman spreads his delusional wings to 231 screens and a $10,560 per screen estimated average. A good sign. It suggests that the film may be able to get up to and perhaps past the $25 million mark. And with a strong awards push, who knows?

The other big per-screen players on more than a couple screens are Whiplash ($4k per on 61), Citizenfour ($5k per on 37), Force Majeure ($3700 per on 24), and Laggies ($4k per on 16). Those 4 films are from 4 different distributors… which seems quite healthy for the indie business.

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Friday Estimates by NightKlady

Fri Est corrected 2014-11-01 at 9.05.01 AM

In yet another example of Friday Estimates done during the day on Friday being proven to be a bad practice, Ouija wins the holi-horror-day over Nightcrawler by $200k. There is a still a good chance that Nightcrawler will win the weekend, but perhaps not with the double-digit gross that two Penske outlets guessed at based on Friday matinees on the east coast.

The last time Halloween fell on a Friday was 2008 and there were openings at $10.1m and $5.4m. Zack & Miri Make A Porno opened to $2.2m on Friday, but more than doubled that on Saturday and had $3m on Sunday. What does that mean for Nightcrawler? Well, the opening Friday for Crawler is 45% higher than Z&M, so if the math holds, Nightcrawler could do $14.6 million. Will it? Probably not. Porno was a teen play and Crawler is more of an adult play, so the Saturday bounce will likely be more modest. Still, $10 million-plus for the 3-day is very possible.

Ouija is an unknown. There was a 59% Friday-to-Friday drop, so the story is not pretty, even if it owns the top slot. Yet, the film had a pretty good Saturday last weekend – as horror films go – and who knows what will happen today as the teens look for something to do after a night of candy and pranks?

Fury is doing better business than the buzz would suggest, coming close or passing $60 million on this, its third weekend. Really, Gone Girl, which is easily the biggest hit of Sept/Oct, is also not getting the hum that it deserves from its numbers (passing $130m domestic today) either. The news cycle has become so hyperactive and movie coverage so obsessed with what is opening every single weekend that there is a distinct lack of institutional memory past each Monday.

Not much happening on the indie scene. Will be watching to see if St Vincent makes a recovery over the the weekend or if it has hit its maturity and has topped out.

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BYOB 102814

BYOB_interstellar

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Review: Interstellar (non-spoiler)

mcsad-651
I don’t really want to write this review.

You see, Christopher Nolan is a profoundly talented artist and he is trying really hard to make a profound movie here. He hired excellent actors who give excellent performances. And not just the much-promoted 3 leads. The supporting cast and many of the surprising small roles are terrific. Much of the film is strikingly beautiful. And there is a lot of really good stuff in the film.

However…

The dialogue – never a Nolan strength – is downright terrible through two acts. I mean, off-off-off-Broadway kinda stuff. Painful, no matter how beautifully delivered.

And it repeats the same ideas over and over and over again, as though we in the audience were too stupid to understand a science fiction movie.

I can say, to the film’s credit, the insufferable first act is only about 40 minutes long. It seems longer than the next two acts, which take over 2 hours.

But even the exit from the first act into the second is painful, not because it’s not well-executed, but because it feels like Nolan is desperate (I can’t say how he feels in reality) to make his mark, attempting a Lean-Kubrick-style transition into the second act that is not nearly as clever as it needs to be to be special.

This was my experience in the film, over and over again. There are so many parts of the film that, were they simply not trying so hard to be clever, would be so much better. Any time I am watching a film and there is a piece of stunt editing – say, paralleling two story elements that are not naturally synced – and when it ends, I don’t feel like I got anything out of the stunt and was beaten over the head by the story point, something is wrong. At least to my eye.

The third act, as you will surely read in many other places, is the best part of the film. But even there, the pieces never quite come together. I have promised a spoiler-free review in the title, so I won’t explain in too much detail. But if you are making a movie that screams that it is espousing a very well-considered philosophy and the story then turns on a series of extreme coincidences (however interesting or complicated by science, space, and spirit), then I say that the movie had better make a real case for the nature of the universe to be about fate. But I tried twice to find this in Interstellar and failed. And I am not an idiot.

Interstellar does have the nerve, to seem to suggest answers to some of the mysteries of 2001: A Space Odyssey in a veiled way. My instinctual response is “f*** off.” Nolan is obviously brilliant, but he is no Kubrick because he is, it seems, incapable of anything beyond literalism.

Actually, some of the “phone call” footage in Interstellar are my favorite moments in the film. Jessica Chastain lights it up, big time. But however much I liked those moments, they are not analogous to the phone calls in 2001, which were about things other than the calls.

Similarly, one gets the feeling that Nolan is one-upping the HAL 9000 by creating more realistic, reflective-of-some-kind-of-current-science mechanical support for the journey. The voices are not as distinct and unforgettable as HAL’s. Clearly, that is not the filmmaker’s goal. But in terms of the audience, what I am presuming to be the intended accuracy doesn’t mean much to an audience, which is trying to distinguish one voice from another without always having a face or name-tag in sight. We can’t build a relationship with the specific machine, even if we can remember some of the repeated conceits around said machines. Literal. But not good drama.

And the overall conceit of the film, which is to reduce a threat to the existence of all human life on earth to fewer than 2 dozen people… I mean, from beginning to end. I get the dramatic notion that sprouted this choice. You can’t tell a story about everyone on earth. Yes. I get it. But the myopia of the film – which only increases from start to finish – becomes a theme, whether intended or not. There is a line between a few people representing humanity and the entire value of humanity being reduced to a handful of people.

The Nolans’ screenplay is constantly telling us what big-picture thinkers they are. And as an audience member, I could easily imagine the deep, intense, months-long philosophical debates between the brothers and, probably, any other friends who would listen (and keep their mouths shut). But there is an odd shallowness that reduces all the intellectual power that is obviously brought to this endeavor to a “you mean… one atom of my fingernail could be an entire universe?” stoner joke.

I honestly think i might have been less anal about the whole third act had the first 110 minutes of the film not felt like water torture so often. I hate reading critics claiming that a movie should have been shorter. It’s usually a random comment that really means that the critic got bored and lost interest for a period. But damned if I didn’t feel that, literally, 40 minutes of this movie could have been stripped away and improved the final product by 60%/70%… not because I was bored, but because I was getting the same detail over and over. Do The Nolans understand E=MC-squared? Probably. I don’t. Not really. And Interstellar was not the place to try to teach me what I never bothered to learn in high school. But the repeated technical blather… oh lord!

And the score. OH MY GOD!!!! The score. I often love Hans Zimmer. I find myself defending his scores when others complain. He has done some truly wonderful work. And this film felt like being hit over the head with every instrument in the orchestra until unconscious. I don’t ever recall a more relentless or agonizing aural experience in a film. There is not a moment of drama that does not, apparently, require underscoring that makes it seem like Atlanta is burning. HEY! THIS IS IMPORTANT. But everything is important in Interstellar. That’s what the film tells me endlessly.

Except, of course, when there are cuts to the silence of space. Oy. Kill me now. Not new. Not special. And on the opposite side of the bombast of the score, it is almost comedic.

I guess I was less pleased with this film than I even thought…

But like I say… there are things to like. Some will love it. Some will go where Nolan takes them. And there are performance moments that are truly wonderful. The current incarnation of Matthew McConaughey could do this role in his sleep. He gets to run the gamut of emotions… but he’s not a trained monkey. He is an actor of control and discipline. You have to be to go as wild as he can go. There is a sequence in which his reaction shot ranges through a lot of emotions and, sadly, I felt like I was watching a bad acting class. Not that the acting was bad, but that the director, leaving a great actor in a position to just react, going through a list of intense emotions… ewww. Chastain did a lot better for herself. Anne Hathaway was wasted in a role that could have been played by literally hundreds of good actresses. She has one good dialogue run in the film. That’s it. (And the young Chastain looked, to me, a lot more like the young Hathaway.)

I won’t talk about the ending… but as I think about it, I just want to note that after all of the drama of the film – 2 hours and 30 minutes before the last 10 of screen performances – the idea that it is all reduced to something so small and carefully undetailed as the very ending is the final heartbreak of this film for me.

But like I wrote… that last act is, easily, the best part of the film. 40 minutes less movie might have made it all seem worth the journey.

The only memorable line in the film will probably become a punchline in future. I won’t tell you what it is, because it is a big spoiler. But when I think about memorable dialogue from Nolan films, there is none. Even the best moments of The Joker were silent.

Okay… enough… feeling bad, to tell the truth. The film is so steeping in good intentions, taking a bat to it (no pun intended) seems cruel. And it doesn’t take a bat to the audience. This is not “a terrible movie.” But I don’t know that it is a good movie. Certainly not a great one.

I look forward to discussing it, in detail, once readers get to see it.

76 Comments »

Weekend Estimates by Ouiady

Weenend Estimates 2014-10-26 at 9.14.38 AM

Ouija (probably) squeaks past $20m, the standard for horror genre openings. It’s Universal’s 7th $20m+ opening of the year. When you look at the studio’s output for 2014, it’s a little shocking. It looks more like a conversative-spending Fox output than what we are used to from Universal. Say what you like, Comcast’s hand can be felt there. There’s not a $100m production in site… not even close. And next year, there are a couple, but the only big spending titles are on sequel/franchise titles. Even the CG-heavy Dracula reboot—another attempt to relaunch the Universal monster franchise—cost well under $100m. The studio is clearly happy to hit doubles and occasional triples while shooting outside of the park is only going to be done in the most conservative situations… aka The Anti-Disney.

Lionsgate’s John Wick is the #3 opening of 2014 for the once-aggressive Lionsgate. It’s within a grenade’s throw of the disappointing #2, The Expendables 3. If you want to know why insiders at Lionsgate are giddy at finding a sucker… uh, partner… in Alibaba, it’s because the studio is on cruise control, except for the soon-to-end Hunger Games franchise and the not-that-huge Divergent franchise. Aside from Divergent, the studio hasn’t had a single film open over $16m or gross as much as $40m domestic this year.

If you want to know why the overall domestic gross is down this year, read this… but more instantly, you can just look at the output of these two distributors.

Fury, which is a project that was built for a smaller distributor, but landed at Sony with a bigger budget, held okay. Still, except for Spider-Man, this was also a fairly conservative output from Sony this year.

Fox’s Gone Girl has the best legs of the big studios since Guardians/Turtles. If you look at fall films with long legs in recent years, there is a remarkable similarity in many of them… Ben Affleck. The film will become Fincher’s #1 domestic grosser sometime in the next week and will likely be his #3 international grosser when all is said and done (behind Se7en and Button).

Another Fox film, The Book Of Life, is on life support. Sigh… Is the film a victim of the studio’s relationship with DreamWorks Animation? Maybe. I don’t have any inside information saying so. But this should have been the Rango of this year and instead… real shame.

Nice expansion for St. Vincent, the closest thing the moribund Weinstein Company may have to a hit so far this year. The studio moved Paddington out of 2014 and will focus on awards hopeful’s The Imitation Game and Big Eyes only the rest of the year.

Disney has a nice family hit with Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, Fucked Up Day. The film will be #4 for the studio – until BH6′s opening weekend – the most successful of the handful of low-budget efforts the studio releases every year at a total cost of less than the worldwide marketing budget of any Marvel, Pixar, Disney Animation, or LucasFilm movie.

I don’t know of any studio doing this, but I think that a number of them should build a small, specialized team that doesn’t just split up the films being released, but actually is there to release films that cost under $30 million. It’s not easy to be pushing out a massive franchise film one week and then an intimate comedy the next. I don’t care how smart and skilled you and your team is, it causes whiplash. And the film that always suffers is the smaller one, with the much smaller marketing budget. Remember, many recent heads of marketing have come out of the hugely successful marketing of smaller films. Pushing out the giant movies is a form of art as well. But a $30 million difference in a small film can actually be felt on the bottom line and much less so on the big films.

Let’s not forget foreign either. The Equalizer is at $170 million worldwide. It’s Denzel’s 7th $170m grosser all-time and could well end up in his Top 5, behind only Safe House with him as the clear lead.

On the indie scene, you start with St. Vincent, but then in smaller releases, Birdman expanded its wings to 50 screens for a $28,600 per-screen average and $1.4 million. A mighty doc opening with Citizenfour’s $235k per on 5. And Laggies, from A24, is surprisingly strong with $13.6k per on 6. The charming little Lynn Shelton movie has a great Keira Knightley performance, but got lost at TIFF after premiering at Sundance in January. Still, people are coming. And Magnolia can’t complain about the numbers on Force Majeure with a $11.7k per-screen on 2. It’s notably not a day-’n'-date VOD film, reminding us that the distribution movement is heading towards more complex ideas of balancing distribution options, not just being theatrical or day-’n'-date.

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Friday Estimates by Klady from Parker Bros.

friday estimates 2014-10-25 at 8.20.01 AM

The box office continues to get more boring…. but that will change next week.

John Wick is the film that should be doing $25m-plus this weekend, but isn’t. Don’t feel too bad, Relativity. Universal couldn’t get the actual Liam Neeson to open to more than $13m last month.

Ouija is yet another junk horror film. Opening day did a little better than half of Annabelle‘s opening day. Maybe “Ouija” should have been the name of a monkey with cymbals that comes to live.

Fury will end its second weekend with numbers similar to The Monuments Men. The real battle between these two end-0f-WWII films will be international, where I expect Fury will have a lot more juice overseas, making it a hit based on worldwide numbers that gets remembered by US media as being soft. With the exception of Moneyball, which is about American baseball, no live-action Brad Pitt film in the last decade has done less than 60% of its business overseas, meaning domestic x1.5 as a starting point. Say Fury stops at $70m domestic (Monuments did $78m)… that suggests a minimum of $175m worldwide for the film.

Gone Girl continues to hold like a champ. I am limited to anecdotal evidence, but my sense is that the film continues to be the only real talking point for the public now available in wide release. Fury has some buzz, but if adults are talking current wide releases, it seems to be Gone. It’s also the only $100m movie since Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, though The Equalizer could crawl there eventually.

Nice expansion for St. Vincent, though this is still, ultimately, a fairly low-grossing title. $20something million. Better than Hyde Park on the Hudson. To be fair, it will also gross more than Rushmore or Broken Flowers. But a modest win for McCarthy and Murray.

I feel a little stupid undervaluing a $20m+ gross for a movie as small as St. Vincent, but that is the market right now. When TWC invests in a film on the marketing side to that degree, there is an expected return and this film isn’t going to achieve what they were aiming at after TIFF. The number is quite nice compared to comparable films with smaller launches. It could certainly match Boyhood‘s $24 million. But what is a special achievement on an IFC marketing budget is “just okay” on a TWC budget like the one for StV and “unfortunate” on a studio marketing budget.

My beloved The Book of Life is dying on the vine. Wish I could say I didn’t see it coming.

The two strong non-Indian arthouse numbers in exclusive are Citizenfour and Laggies. Both will be close to or over $18k per screen on 5 and 6 screens, respectively.

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Six rules for filmmaking from Mike Nichols
1. The careful application of terror is an important form of communication.
2. Anything worth fighting for is worth fighting dirty for.
3. There’s absolutely no substitute for genuine lack of preparation.
4. If you think there’s good in everybody, you haven’t met everybody.
5. Friends may come and go but enemies will certainly become studio heads.
6. No one ever lost anything by asking for more money.
~ Via Larry Karaszewski and Howard A. Rodman On Facebook

“I expected ‘Salesman’ to take the step backward every day that Chekhov and Beckett did — but no, it was there to help all the time. The circumstances are like a brick shithouse, they are so solid. You can’t really be satisfied, but I am pretty close to it because the cast took it and ran. They get better every day. I’ve never seen anything like that before, and I don’t know if I’ll ever see it again. Is my ambition sated? I don’t know. To get something right, it can’t be sated because you can’t ever get enough of it right—and even if it is right, it won’t stay right. That’s the thing about a play. But with ‘Salesman,’ it’s different. I don’t know how, but they just keep getting better each night. I really don’t think I’ll direct another play. This is as good a time as I’ve ever had, and I don’t want to fuck it up.”
~ Mike Nichols To Stephen Galloway At The Time Of “Death Of A Salesman”