The Hot Blog

Weekend Estimates: Mamma, You’ve Been Equalized!

Weekend Estimates 2018-07-22 at 12.33.50 PM

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

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

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

A couple brief thoughts on this specific weekend to come…

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

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

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

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

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

But I digress…

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

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

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

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Friday Estimates: Mamma Equalized 2

friday estimates 2018-07-21 at 12.32.03 PM copy

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Weekend Estimates: Johnson Haze

weekend estimates 2018-07-15 at 9.58.48 AM

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

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Friday Estimates: Blob Beats Rock

friday estimates 071618

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BYOB

byobriot

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Weekend Estimates by JW2,2

Weekend Estimates 2018-07-01 at 11.38.52 AM

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Friday Estimates

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

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

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

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Weekend Estimates by Goldblum Cameo

weekend pass 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday Estimates Analyzed by Dino David

Friday Estimates 2018-06-23 at 11.21.43 AM

Never know when it will be the last one…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Later, gators…

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Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

I am not a California fruit loop. No one read my aura and told me what to do. But it is funny how life tells you things, if you are willing to listen.

I bought my Mustang just before we launched Movie City News. After an accident in late 2017, I kept it and cared for it and wanted it to last forever… but I finally had to say “goodbye” to that little beauty. It was time.

The company I started online with in May 1997, TNT (and roughcut.com), has been sold. The company I worked for over a couple years just before that, EW, was sold off years ago.

DP/30 hit 100,000 subscribers recently.

Donald Trump’s ascendance has reconfigured my daily life experience of the entire world and my own life.

In 1997, the sequel to Jurassic Park landed. This year, the sequel to Jurassic World lands.

The Star Wars re-releases happened just before The Hot Button launched… and we are still talking about frickin’ Star Wars.

No studio head from when I started remains in place at the same studio. Only Stacey Snider actually reflects the top slot from back when. (Donna Langley was, I believe, a couple steps below at the time… behind Scott “Netflix” Stuber and Mary Parent on the food chain at the time.) Rothman took over for Mechanic, then they added Jim G. Alan Horn was at Castle Rock and is on his second studio life since then. Toby Emmerich was “the music guy” around New Line, but would work his way up.

I can’t even list the marketing and publicist regimes I have watched come and go and come again over these years. It’s a family tree that would cause a heart attack in the most hearty genealogist. (Michael Moses taking the big seat at Universal this week… another landmark with decades of history for me.)

There are many more signals coming my way. Like the proverbial broken arm, I see them every day now that I am of a mind to see them.

I never wanted to be a journalist, telling the stories of those who do things. Certainly not a critic, a job I have learned to respect deeply for a very small number of people who take it seriously (not just take themselves seriously).

I became a film critic because Roger Ebert wouldn’t book me on his show while Gene was out unless I called myself a critic. I always considered my ability to break down a film a skill that was useful for other purposes… as part of something else. But when I put on the robe, I quickly found that an illogical amount of power could be had in a role that I have never seen as being as influential as some others do.

I was always judgemental of writers who broke “the rules” of being a journalist or a critic, though it hadn’t really occurred to me that it was being done as an act of impotence, not of power. I could feel and identify that power quite early. Others could not. And when they did, they usually changed their tunes, but remained in denial of the damage they had done when they thought they were unimportant.

Power is one of the great insanities of Hollywood. Scoreboard is scoreboard… and everything else is just madness. The most powerful are the most insecure and the ability of a mouse to bring down an elephant is shocking. And I am not talking about heroes like Rose McGowan and Asia Argento and Jessica Chastain and the many others fighting the good fight against sexism or the many fighting against ingrained corporate racism. I’m talking about ego and agony.

I have long believed that Hollywood is a canary in the coal mine of various industries and even the political world. I know it sounds insane, but Nikki Finke and her influence for a short period was similar to Trump taking out the Republican candidates in the primaries. Fortunately, she was empowered by one guy with a fat checkbook and she finally couldn’t help but to burn that bridge as she has burned every bridge in her life for decades. But the only power she ever really had was to threaten to expose people in a way they did not want and to color their lives with abusive language. And Trump has abusive tweets and nicknames.

I have long said that she never got anyone a job, helped a movie (aside from The Women, which then went on to flop badly), or got anyone fired. One very smart, savvy person at one studio made an impassioned argument about how Nikki cost one exec his job… but that was because he was still drinking the Kool-Aid of the person who had used Nikki as his spear to take this other person out.

America will soon (even if it’s 6 years somehow) be in a post-Trump America. And the post-Nikki Hollywood entertainment media landscape does not fill me with hope for out nation’s happy future. No one has ever been able to match Nikki… because no one is as shameless as Nikki. But man, do they try!

More than the amount of junk food that dominates entertainment journalism in 2018 (and there has been plenty over my 20+ years in this game, some created by me), it is the degree of fear and kicked-in control mechanisms that have really made my work untenable.

When I started online (EW carried its own kind of power), my relationship with the studios was a partnership. We weren’t equal. And I never gave up my right to be brutally tough. But I was not out to kill anyone. I was out to seek truth, as best I could. And in response, I was offered a lot of truth. There were moments of extreme bullshit. But usually, I could see why the exec offering that was doing it out of fear and self-defense and even if they were in my way, I was personally sympathetic.

My life was always 20% or so off the record. And that number grew, eventually passing the 50% mark. It wasn’t about protecting friends that I had made (real ones or movie ones), but about playing fair. Like anything else in life, we all know where the line is almost all of the time. Sometimes, it gets blurry. But dinner chat informed my insight and never landed in print. After a while, I came to fully understand that even in private conversations, it was often necessary to maintain the privacy of others, even on what might seem to be trivial matters. As I noted early, the skin gets rather thin in this industry. And people do love to gossip.

I can trace the end of a few relationships to moments in which I wrote the truth, but was treated as though I broke a confidence.

Then, as now, it was easier to dethrone someone than to get them into that seat.

But I can also measure up the women and the men who understood what I was up to… who prized truth… and who were willing to take the slings and arrows of my sometimes outrageous written fortunes, knowing that I was just as likely to embrace them in a warm hug the next day.

When did it start to turn into something else?

2006.

That was the summer when box office went from being a sleepy village of people with a real interest and the intent to be truthful to being a commodity, as commodified by Finke and Drudge.

But then… 2009. Penske buys Finke. The mirror of this was Sheldon Adelson Gets Behind Trump.

Like the last presidential election, the serious implications of this event were enhanced great by timing. Newspapers were shitting themselves. And they were right to do so. And online media wasn’t much more comfortable. Nikki Finke, whatever you thought of her work, was getting paid. And depending on who you asked, she was getting paid a lot or a small personal fortune. And, whatever her work, she was instantly iconic because of that money. Some of the best minds covering media got sucked into believing the lies she built around herself.

When I started online, people were afraid of Ain’t It Cool News. For a moment, people were afraid of the madness of Jeffrey Wells. But Finke was different because everyone suddenly wanted to be like her. They wanted her profile. They wanted her money. They really didn’t pay attention to her abuses or her slowly selling out to every single studio in town. This is not even a judgement of Nikki. This is the nature of doing business the way she did business. And Penske supercharged it.

In the 9 years hence, Penske has spread his pixie cash over a big chunk of entertainment media, especially on the industry side. Variety, IndieWire, Wenner Media, Fairchild. Journalism was teetering on the edge of the cliff for a long time. I don’t think he meant to push it over the edge. But over the edge it went.

And with it, trust between the two sides of the journalistic effort.

The problem is not that studios can’t trust most outlets to do what they want. The problem is that studios can now happily live without anyone who does not do what they want. And they do.

Moreover, the money in journalism isn’t in journalism. It is in proximity to talent (on both sides of the camera) and the ability to manage and exploit it.

Like universities changing their focus to encourage students who can get student loans to cover their entire tuition (see the excellent doc, White Tower), media has adjusted its ambitions to encourage relationships with advertisers who, more as sponsors than as ad buyers, can pay the bills.

And journalism has disappeared, replaced in most cases with people of limited insight (some very experienced… and still blind) opining about everything. Even the most simple of math exercises, box office, is dominated by opinion and expectations over any serious analysis of the numbers.

To be fair, I was the first asshole in the internet era asshole pit. When I launched The Hot Button in 1997 and more in depth in 1998, there was nothing online like it. Blogs did not exist. I knew a fair amount about a lot of things and I knew how to research what I didn’t know.

But I could also be a prick. I was susceptible to little man’s disease, worrying more about upping my profile than the consequences at times. I wrote some stupid stuff. I wrote some really smart stuff. Still, as noted before, I built strong relationships that lasted a long time, many still going strong.

I never wanted to compete with AICN. I never wanted to compete with Wells. I didn’t want to compete with Nikki back in her day. I don’t want to compete with what the trades have become. I have sought out relationships that would allow me to do the work I want to do within other organizations, but time after time, they have been felled by a bad fit or someone whose feelings I hurt long ago or the basic fact that almost no one really knows what they want in this topsy-turvy media world. (I will give Jay Penske big ups on that count… he knows what he wants and is undeterred by realities good or bad.)

What do I want?

I want to keep loving movies. I want to support movies I love. I want to support great filmmakers. And I want to use the experience and knowledge and simple brain power every day that I can in my life.

I want to work hand-in-fist with the executives who I have known and respected for years and for those I do not yet know, finally free to help me get down to the absolute truths of situations glorious and grotesque in order to help them be even better at what they do.

The world is not just made up of movies and filmmakers that I love. I am excited by the idea of solving the puzzle of movies and people that are part of the commerce of movies too. I want to help companies whose work I don’t like figure out how to get people like me to love their work. I want to get down into the blueprints and process documents and find an answer that someone else might not. I want to argue both sides.

Of course, there is a list of things I will not do. I am not interested in being a part of anything that I consider to be intentionally damaging. I would not participate, for example, in hiding sexism or racism or indifference to those things. But I would be happy to help build roads to correcting those issues that are not as scary as that transition can sometimes be for the old fashioned. I will always be a voice for transparency. But that doesn’t mean I don’t believe that everyone deserves a legitimate degree of privacy.

I have come to know, in my heart, that in order to improve things in this moment in time, I need to go into every situation without being a threat (accurately or not) to expose the truths to which I am allowed special access. I need to be able to make the argument to do the right thing – when that is the issue – without the freedom to win points with an audience when my best efforts are rebuffed. That is the nature of this beast.

To do this, I need to end my public-facing life and take it all private. I need to work for the other team, if they will have me.

It’s a new life.

I’m 53 years old. And it’s time for the next act.

I will keep doing DP/30 for as long as I can, as I don’t see it as a conflict with anyone. If a client wants one, they can probably get one. I love doing them. And I think they bring value to the audience.

I don’t know what the immediate future will bring for Movie City News. Laura Rooney and I gave birth to this thing almost 16 years ago. Ray Pride has been my editorial partner for years. It is still a viable business and website, but the right circumstance to move it forward has not shown itself.

But I need to start signing NDAs and doing the work I hope will take me to a very late retirement. I am raring to go.

This means that I cannot ask you, as readers, to trust that you are getting my full-throated opinion and that I am not showing bias for a client or friend. And I have always been 100% clear that I could never sleep at night mixing and matching my reality for people who trust me to be honest. But it is hard, so hard, to say “goodbye.”

It’s been an honor. I thank you for your attention and from many of you, your participation.

I don’t think this will be the last Hot Blog entry… but I needed to say it out loud.

And away we go….

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Weekend Estimates by Mr. Credible

Weekend Estimates 2018-06-17 at 10.02.09 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(More to come…)

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Friday Estimates

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Hot Button Rules of Thumb (first published in 2006)

Top 10 Hot Button Rules of Thumb

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

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

TOP TEN HOT BUTTON RULES OF THUMB

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

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

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

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

5. There Are Very Few Journalists In Entertainment Journalism.

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

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

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

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

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

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Top 10 News Stories – Hot Button, Dec 2017

Top Ten Movie News Stories of 1997

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My First Online Column. June 6, 1997

take one


 

Whole Picture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s also Tom Cruise.

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

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

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

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

 

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“Ten years ago at Telluride, I said on a panel that theatrical distribution was dying. It seemed obvious to me. I was surprised how many in the audience violently objected: ‘People will always want to go to the movies!’ That’s true, but it’s also true that theatrical cinema as we once knew it has died. Theatrical cinema is now Event Cinema, just as theatrical plays and musical performances are Events. No one just goes to a movie. It’s a planned occasion. Four types of Event Cinema remain.
1. Spectacle (IMAX-style blockbusters)
2. Family (cartoon like features)
3. Horror (teen-driven), and
4. Film Club (formerly arthouse but now anything serious).

There are isolated pockets like black cinema, romcom, girl’s-night-out, seniors, teen gross-outs, but it’s primarily those four. Everything else is TV. Now I have to go back to episode five of ‘Looming Tower.'”
~ Paul Schrader

“Because of my relative candor on Twitter regarding why I quit my day job, my DMs have overflowed with similar stories from colleagues around the globe. These peeks behind the curtains of film festivals, venues, distributors and funding bodies weren’t pretty. Certain dismal patterns recurred (and resonated): Boards who don’t engage with or even understand their organization’s artistic mission and are insensitive to the diverse neighborhood in which their organization’s venue is located; incompetent founders and/or presidents who create only obstacles, never solutions; unduly empowered, Trumpian bean counters who chip away at the taste and experiences that make organizations’ cultural offerings special; expensive PR teams that don’t bring to the table a bare-minimum familiarity with the rich subcultural art form they’re half-heartedly peddling as “product”; nonprofit arts organizations for whom art now ranks as a distant-second goal behind profit.”
~ Eric Allen Hatch