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There is a lot to learn about putting on a film festival in Marrakech.
There is plenty to criticize as well. But seriously… any festival looking to play on the world stage should send a delegation to Morocco to see how they handle things there. Make no mistake, there is a huge advantage to being the assured big fish in a relatively small town, “UNDER THE HIGH PATRONAGE OF HIS MAJESTY KING MOHAMMED VI.” Mel Brooks was right when he said that it was good to be the king. And King Mohammed VI puts up a heckuva nice spread for his annual movie embrace.
Every city does streetlamp banners for their big film festivals. Of course, the festival is usually one of 3 or 4 events being promoted this way. And in Marrakech, there was also competition. But banners were ubiquitous. So were stand-up three-sided kiosks with not only the imagery of the festival, but easily accessible schedules for all five theaters and all the screenings. They also had wonderful standees all over town with actual images of the films, filmmakers, jury members, honorees, etc, with interesting, detailed information about the films and the filmmakers. I guess in the politics of a festival like NYFF, someone would be out counting how many times Movie B got promoted versus Movie C, but still, it created a sense of movie love in the streets of a city that one rarely sees. In Cannes or San Sebastian, there are distributors paying for big images everywhere… but this feels different.
Once inside a venue, the festival ran a very simple, but very effective visual representation of the festival program, with images and descriptions from each of the nodes of the fest. I think these could have actually been a little more complex, but you had a clear sense by the end of one day attending movies of how big the competition group was, who was being honored, who was on the jury, who was doing masterclasses, etc. And them when a film was ready to be show, there was a screen image projected for a minute or two that looked a bit like a page from a program book… but was a surprisingly nice, simple way of setting up what you were about to see… taking you out of the headspace of getting to the venue, picking seats, chatting with friends or strangers, and generally settling in. In the main theater, there was the Cannes-like formality of introducing the director and/or cast and crew, but even outside of that setting, there was something nice about the vibe of “and now we present…”
Speaking of the talent in the first balcony, if there was one thing about Marrakech that I really didn’t like, it was that it felt very segregated. I was told by other journalists in attendance that it wasn’t always this way… even last year. But the festival keeps growing and the sense of community that I know that I am afforded at other festivals was not in play here. I acknowledge that as a journalist at a film festival, there is a built-in sense of entitlement. But as a guest who has flown 18 hours to attend this event, presumably to promote the glories and pleasures of the films and the festival itself, I presumed that I might run into a juror or a filmmaker at breakfast now and again. And given that I have interviewed or chatted up most of the non-Moroccan talent at the festival sometime in the last couple of years, we might chat in a relaxed way, aside from whatever the press office was—or was not—able to arrange. But I didn’t see a single filmmaker or jury member in our 5-star hotel… ever. Nor were I or my brethren invited to engage in any way, aside from in a set-up interview. So… the anti-Telluride, really. And given what Marrakech is and is not in the movie universe, that seemed a misstep.
Thing is, I can’t blame the festival for managing growth clumsily. The same can be said for some of the major festivals on this continent. But there are checks & balances in the form of the distributors at those festivals, who are actively selling or promoting upcoming releases for their films. Harvey Weinstein did show up the day after Mandela’s death to present One Chance, but I would assume that exhausting effort was made for reasons of long-term funding opportunity for The Weinstein Company, not traditional festival courtesy.
In any case, it is not for me to define the goals of the Marrakech Film Festival or the King. But at the risk of sounding arrogant, I can read the intentions and the boundaries of pretty much every film festival I have ever attended within 24 hours of my arrival. It’s apparent in the programing, the guest relations, the talent on hand, the venues, the press opportunities, etc. in Morocco, after a week, not so much.
It is clear that bringing in a buttload of talent is a big focus of the festival. There were so many major filmmakers in Morocco over the 10 day run of the festival that when some dropped out at the last second—like Kiarostami—it didn’t slow the event down much.
And what is apparent is that local perspective may be more important than anything else at the festival. Jurors spent time with and taught local aspiring artists. There was an unapologetically heavy dose of local talent in all the competitions of the festival. And there seemed to be a lot more interest from the festival’s media relations desk on local radio and than in international press. That is unusual… but being different—or to my disadvantage—doesn’t make it wrong.
What was left, for me, was a free trip to Marrakech… more chance to do print interviews than taped (which is pretty much all I do now)… some exceptional talent doing some interesting, but underfed things, and a mediocre film festival. Part of that mediocrity was that if a film wasn’t playing for the jury, there was a good chance that there would be no English subtitles. So, once I realized that I wasn’t doing anything interview-wise for days, my default of trying to see a lot of movies—I saw 4 on the first day—was a bit of a flop too.
There was a great big Scandinavian sidebar… most of which had no English subtitles… and most of the films that did, I had already seen elsewhere. There were high quality leftovers from other festivals (fourth time trying to see Blue Ruin was the charm). And there was a lot of energetic, aggressive filmmaking that can best be described as… young. A lot of rape and drugs and parental threat at this festival.
Marrakech is a fascinating city. In many ways, it is not much different than many of the aggressively moneyed towns being built in the middle of formerly 3rd world cities. There is a ton of construction going on. There are a lot of empty buildings all over the place. You can be on a block with all of the world’s most fashionable brands with their own stores and then walk 6 blocks away onto a dirt street. There is a 5,000-Euro-a-night hotel a few blocks from the souks, which glow a beige light at night between the underlit streets.
People were very nice. There is a very low crime rate, apparently, so while women may get hassled by people wanting to sell them things on the streets more than the guys, there is not a lot of fearful tension. But there are guards in front of every hotel I saw, keeping the locals at a distance.
Pretty much every other journalist I spoke to was hoping to come back to Marrakech next year. I enjoyed it as well, both the festival and the city. But not quite enough for 48 hours in airplanes and airports. And certainly not with the working mindset I brought there. I would love to know how the festival—and the American press reps did a great job, but they are not running the festival—sees itself and what it really wants from an American journalist. I felt, going in, that a half-dozen or more top talent interviews at the festival would have given an impression that the festival was aiming at not only being world-class, but at being on the high end of specialty festivals. But I ended up shooting one excellent director… at the end of the festival… who I was meant to shoot in Toronto, but couldn’t fit into the schedule. Bless her… terrific interview… but…
And now, after the jump, photos and video from the press day to Ouarzazate… which turned out to be about 60 of our closest media friends heading about 150 miles from Marrakech to the desert studios where lots of desert movies have been shot.
Not much happened at the box office while I was gone.
On the annual weekend where Hollywood has made a tradition—with a few exceptions—of not opening anything of any real box office weight, the only wide opener was Relativity’s Out of the Furnace, which is a very serious drama with a touch of genre.
Frozen, a week younger than The Hungrier Games, made a meaningless shift in the most meaningless and overstated box office stat… rank. The significant story for Frozen is that it’s the biggest grosser after 3 wide weekends for Walt Disney Animation Studios, the brand that has been working in tandem with Pixar for the last 6 years. Aside from The Lion King, $219m domestic is the magic number for non-Pixar Disney animated releases—albeit, Beauty & The Beast and Aladdin are both over 20 years old—and Frozen has a real shot at becoming the #2 all-time non-Pixar Disney release. Worldwide, Tangled‘s $391m international gross is a much tougher challenge.
As for The Hunger Games; Catching Fire, the 2nd film in the series will pass the 1st in worldwide gross sometime this next week. The question is how much more the film has in the tank. My guess would be that $850m – $900m worldwide is where we’re headed… with foreign about $75m over domestic, aka about 150% higher internationally than the first time around.
Out of the Furnace is kind of a step backward for Relativity. It’s a tough movie with a distinctly adult target audience, but you have to do better than that. Relativity hasn’t really released non-genre material in their three-year history. The closest film to Furnace was Act of Valor, which is Relativity’s 2nd best opening ever… but that was sold heavily on direct involvement with the Navy SEALs and Furnace is, in a literal way more than a thematic one, about a military veteran who is not having an easy go of it. You have to wonder if they would have been better off holding the film until there was some awards glow around American Hustle, but you also have to respect Relativity for making the push for Furnace as a prestige film instead of simply trying to sell the genre elements and to work off of the wake of its lead actor’s other film.
I am kind of amazed that Inside Llewyn Davis is the one of only 4 Coen Bros movies—at least, as best I can tell via Box Office Mojo—that has had an exclusive opening in the last 20 years. In any case, nice number… not an answer to any real box office question. This year alone, you have Spring Breakers doing $88k per and doing $14 million and Blue Jasmine doing $102k per and doing $32 million. So where does that leave Llewyn? Who the hell knows? (Rhetorical. The only legit answer is, “no one.”) O’ Brother, Where Are Thou didn’t open as well ($37k per on 5) and did $45 million as the music caught on. Time will tell.
We are in that odd time when awards movies are doing business, but generally holding their water until they can capitalize on the free publicity of nominations and awards to come. This weekend the serious Best Picture contenders are at slot numbers 9, 10, 11, 13, 16, 17, and 19, grossing between $410,000 and $2.1 million each.
I’m Thankful To wake up almost every morning with my wife and my near-4-year-old son by my side. That’s really the size of the world that matters most, even with the Blackberry close at hand, ready to connect me to anyone who might be trying to expand that worldview, with hundreds of channels of satellite TV and Netflix and Hulu and Amazon and Apple TV and Roku and the Google Dongle, with Twitter beckoning, and the world outside creaking with the sound of morning.
I Thank the friends I know, the friends who are really right there, and more and more, the friends I have never met. I am afforded a degree of anonymity in my work, especially via DP/30, where I haven’t been on camera in years. In years past, there were times where the lack of personal branding was uncomfortable. But now, each time I see a “I don’t know who this guy is, but…” comment, I feel like I am closer to my mission statement. There is ego in my work. More when I was younger and anxious to become a known quantity, if only in a small swath of my chosen turf. But as entertainment journalism has become mostly ego, most of the time… I am pleased to offer up the work without it being about me and my self-promotion. Particularly with DP/30, I feel like I am offering something of value to viewers (and sometimes, to talent), as best I can, without the singular focus on what is in it for me.
I Am Thankful For a tremendous movie year, scooped—as it now too often is—from the crapfest of the first half of the year. Of all the wide releases, I count The Place Beyond The Pines, Mud (950 screens), Spring Breakers, and The Great Gatsby as the only films really worth any more consideration than the time spent/wasted viewing them before July. (Admittedly, I did not see Now You See Me or The Croods, which have some love in some quarters.)
Thank GOD For independent films and distributors. It’s a somewhat nasty business right now. After all the posturing in indieland, making fun of the exhibitors for demanding respect of their window, indie is still struggling with windows and how to balance VOD, PPV, and theatrical to best effect (mostly on films that have a legit chance at finding a bigger audience). But there are many long-established distributors out there, still working their asses off, and more new companies trying to figure it all out than I ever recall. As a result, more interesting movies of quality are getting some distribution. And some of that distribution is painful. There are some awfully good movies that are getting lost in the new, evolving system. And there are “elements” in many of the breakouts that threaten to create an era of chasing the wrong things in indie, just as they did when “Sundance films” all started to look the same for a number of years. The good part is, we know the intentions are good… or at least, better than the wide-release distributors (though the evil of big distributors is overstated endlessly by writers and critics, young and old).
We All Should Thank the directing iconoclasts, from David O. Russell to Richard Linklater to The Coens to Harmony Korine to Abdellatif Kechiche to Lars von Trier (who has made an impact this year with trailers/clips alone) to Baz to Denis Villeneuve to The Retired One to Joshua Oppenheimer to Steve McQueen to Jeff Nichols and on and on… even to the mainstreamers like Ron Howard and Scorsese, who continue to stretch their comfort zone while members of The Senior Circuit.
I Am Thankful To all the people in the film business out there who are just doing their danged jobs. It’s not that they don’t have a passion. But there are a lot of people, even at the VP level, who are keeping the trains running. They face a lot of obstacles every day, many of which are just other people trying to do their jobs. But it’s not easy. And a lot of them lost their jobs this last year. But they are the backbone of the whole thing. As I get older, watching the ebb and flow of talented executives, publicists, marketers, etc, I get more philosophical about this. I can almost always tell the ones that are going to make it and rise in all this mess… they’re the ones who are there to make things happen, no matter how hard it gets, how obnoxious the “talent,” however many times the spouse needs an apology. There are a lot of Good People who work in this business of bullshit. They not only make my life easier… they give my soul comfort.
Thank You, Megan Ellison. I do not know you, as you don’t care to be known by me. That’s okay. I dig you anyway. It cannot often be said that The Money makes the movie world a better place. But you have invested the money in the best ways possible. And all of our movie lives are richer for you having taken in interest in making movies.
I Am Thankful For the embrace of so many people—personal publicists, studio publicists, talent—that have allowed DP/30 to become a 200+ episode a year internet series. The range of interest varies, from great enthusiasm to going with the movie publicity flow to complete disinterest. But the needle keeps moving towards the better part of that scale as the years go by. It requires a fair amount of trust to put talent on camera for 30 minutes without a break or a more traditional set of expected questions. But I think that many of these folks, who have truly intimate relationships with the talent with whom they work, understand that in filmed entertainment, it is very rare to fully disappear inside a character. No journalist knows this talent as well as the people they work with daily. And who these actors and directors and writers and composers and so on are does matter. It’s not about ripping away the facade or getting so close that the public knows what personal hygiene choices they make. It’s about the work and the passion that allows people to make a life doing the work they do. The format is loose and not always magical. But when we’re all on the same page, good things almost always happen. The effort it truly appreciated. (Extra thanks to the publicists at a couple of the studios that don’t really prioritize these interviews, but keep fighting for them to be included on the schedules. You know who you are… and even though things don’t always work out, the effort to fight the disinterest is truly appreciated.)
Many Thanks To The Gurus o’ Gold, who participate each week in our consensus chart. We were the first of these samplers and, I like to think, still the best one… because we have the best of the best, even as Oscar prognosticators seem to be procreating like bunnies.
I Thank whatever drives Amy Adams to push herself into new places in her work. Amy herself said in a Q&A that she admires Jennifer Lawrence’s fearlessness (for which I thank some higher power). But after taking a big step into her own darkness with Paul Thomas Anderson, she’s taken another daring step forward with David O. Russell and an actor who could have rested on her spot as one of America’s Sweethearts is taking steps into a rangey, really exciting career (with a lot of years to come). There have been a number of new discoveries and revelations this year, but when a vertran turns a corner (also see: Scarlett Johansson), it is especially thrilling.
I Am Always Thankful To the legacy players that led to this moment, from Scott Safon and the late great Andy Jones to Laura Rooney to the current right hand of MCN, Ray Pride… and all the contributors to the site. I am not a one-man band. Never have been. Whether it’s Michael Wilmington or Len Klady doing weekly entries or Ray doing the daily headlines or my cameramen for DP/30, we’re lean and mean and every piece of the puzzle matters.
And as always, I thank you for reading this and anything else you read or watch that I created this year and any other. It is a privilege to have an audience. That doesn’t mean that my audience gets to define me. I’m not Burger King. But if you allow me to either support your ideas, conflict with them, or just have the conversation, you are honoring me with a gift of engagement. And that is about the best gift that anyone can give me. Thanks.
An $8.6 million increase over the first film… 6%… amazingly enough, incremental growth on opening weekend.
Don’t get me wrong… discussed this in depth yesterday… it’s a healthy monster. It’s just not expanding in a significant way.
There was a $125m “deficit” in foreign against domestic on the first Hunger Games. This weekend, internationally, suggests that the rest of the world is now hooked in and we can expect at least 50/50 this time, which would mean at least $125m increase in worldwide when all is said and done. So it may well be an $800 million franchise, not a $700 million franchise.
Oh yeah… and Hunger Games is $8 million behind Thor… well, Thor‘s domestic cume.
NOW… did anything else happen this box office weekend?
ADD (12:06p): Frozen. At Disney/Pacific’s El Capitan. Massive number, pretty close to sold out all weekend, though with ticket prices in the $25 range.
Free Birds had the best hold on the top of the charts… but it’s still a rather soft number, which will be Frozen out later this week.
There are nine awards hopefuls in the Top 25, though none in the top 7 (outside of effects hopes). At top, still, is Gravity with $3.2 million. It’s immediately followed by 12 Years A Slave and Dallas Buyers Club, then Ender’s Game followed by Captain Phillips (passing $100m this weekend). Under $1m for the weekend, The Book Thief, All Is Lost, Nebraska, Enough Said, and Blue Is the Warmest Color.
Nice tiny opening for Philomena. Doesn’t assure anything, though I think this will be a favorite for older audiences for months to come.
It may turn out to be something else, but today, The Hunger Games franchise looks like it has its number. The Hunger Games opened to $67.3 million Friday and a $152.5m weekend. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire opened to an estimated $68.8 million Friday and a weekend estimate to come tomorrow… but you can be pretty sure it will be between $150m and $160m. In other words, humongous, but not growing.
This is actually a phenomenon of the last 10 years that really wasn’t part of the movie business math before. The number gets set by the first film… often the biggest of the series until the finale… and then the number is up or down a little each time. Hardly worth thinking too hard about. Harry Potter started it. Twilight continued it. Marvel saw it happen at two levels. First, there was a kind of set audience for the two Hulk movies and then, at a higher number, we saw it with Thor and Captain America. Iron Man: The Franchise was the anomaly for Marvel-produced Marvel character films and or course, Avengers made the case that a combination of characters at one gross level could produce a huge number grouped together. Thor: The Dark World is up about 15% over the first film right now, though the lead is thinning a bit as we get farther from the big opening.
The big hope of significantly bigger numbers for these franchises now comes not from an expanding US market for each film, but from international, where the hope/expectation is that somehow the franchise is not as highly valued, but then explodes after theatrical and post-theatrical viewing in the rest of the world. And by #3, it still tends to get static.
None of this is a bad thing. But it’s a big change from, say, Bond, where there was incremental growth on almost every film—until the last one—or alternately, the big bump on the 2nd film followed by a drop off on the 3rd film, or the really old school (pre-dvd sell-thru) slow leak of each sequel to earn enough for profit but always on a downward trajectory. Obviously, there exceptions to all things, but there are trends that are real. Bond and Fast/Furious each got “resets” recently, resetting their expected gross level significantly.
Anyway… odds are pretty good that The Hunger Games franchise will live at this $700 million range… which not coincidentally was the Twilight neighborhood from the 2nd film on. I suspect that the folks at Summitsgate would prefer the kind of worldwide gross doubling that greeted Twilight 2 ($709m) after the first film did $392m. (Rough numbers, people… don’t lose focus.) But that doesn’t seem likely here. They’ll just have to live with $700m grosses and squeezing as many films as they can out of this thing. Coming To A Theater Near You In 2022: Katniss Has Kittens!
The only other wide opening this weekend is The Delivery Man, which is the worst opening over 1000 screens for Vince Vaughn since… ever. I don’t want to bury the guy, but the last $20m+ opening was 2009″s Couple’s Retreat. He still has a following, but if you can’t open to 8 figures, you aren’t an Opener anymore. This is Vaughn’s fourth wide open since Couple’s Retreat. The last three were team-ups and opened between $12.5m and $18m. Solo, it will be under $10m. What that screams to me is that it’s Robert Duvall time… still well liked, still helps a movie open… but not The Big Box Office Kahuna. It happens. See: Jim Carrey.
Enter into the dark side… including not just nudity, but an explicit flash of fellatio.