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Weekend Estimates by Klady-Man 2

Weekend Estimates 2015-07-26 at 9.29.12 AM

Not a particularly strong weekend for any of the top titles. The gross of the Top 5, new and old, is a few million better than the weakest weekend of the summer, July 4, which was led by 3rd & 4th holdovers and had the holiday on Saturday. A 57% drop for Ant-Man is nothing to crow about in its second weekend, yet was still good enough to keep a soft Pixels opening from being at the top of the chart. Southpaw and Paper Towns opened modestly. No signs of any effect of the violence in Lafayette on Trainwreck‘s second weekend.

More to come…

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Friday Estimates by Pixelated Klady

Friday Estimates 2015-07-25 at 9.40.22 AM

Not a very exciting weekend.

Pixels is not a complete disaster, like That’s My Boy or Blended, but it does stink of Adam Sandler’s last gasp as the major box office star he has been for 17 years. And sorry haters, but his stardom and success is undeniable, even if you hate the man’s humor utterly. The difference with Pixels is that it is high concept and relatively high budget for recent Sandler and unless the videogame element generates $150 million in Asian countries, this one is going down… greatly because they relied so much on Sandler, not Columbus, to sell it. And the truth is, I have no idea what happened inside of Sony to have this sold the way it was. Did Columbus reject being front and center? Did Sandler control marketing? Did they test “Here’s a movie from the guy who brought you Harry Potter and Home Alone and guess what goofball came along for the ride?” and it didn’t test well? Don’t know. But like Hotel Transylvania, I feel like the movie needed to be sold without making it all about the actor, who brings a ton of baggage – much of it unfair, in terms of media – to his releases.

Anyway… will families show up with their kids today? Probably not much. And the film is perfectly safe for under 10s. But they didn’t sell that element either. They just hoped little kids would get jazzed by life-sized videogames. So the fear, for Sony, is that they got the core Sandler audience on Friday and that the film didn’t reach much beyond that and will sink on Saturday and Sunday, leaving either Minions or Ant-Man or both to pass it at the box office to great embarrassment.

As I have noted a million times, ranking means nothing in reality. It is a bad way to report box office and we all should stop doing it as a way of leading. However, taking what was meant to be a 4-quadrant movie and turning it into a half-quadrant movie is hugely embarrassing and when you “win” Friday by almost $2 million in a seven-digit “race” and have to worry about “losing” to not just one, but two movies… someone is shitting themselves at Sony this weekend. And it ain’t Tom Rothman. In fact, if it hasn’t already done so – via internal projections – this opening has got to empower Rothman even more with the corporate bosses, because honestly, Pixels is soooo Amy Pascal… so last regime. Further, Paramount would have found a way to open this thing to $50 million. But then again, Paramount’s computers are working and the studio hasn’t been under attack for 10 months. So, deep breaths.

Ant-Man‘s 68% opening-Friday-to-Friday drop is better than Cap 1 and worse than Thor 1… but not far off of either and the rest of the weekend will tell the story. Cap still ended up with $25.5m for the second weekend off a $7.9m Friday. That suggests Ant-Man should be somewhere around $23.5 million this weekend if it stays in step.

Minions is looking at $22 million and change, based on the 3-day arc of last weekend.

Paper Towns and Southpaw are nearly twins coming out of the gate. If I Stay would seem a good, if slightly generous, template for Paper Towns… meaning, it didn’t find the sweet spot that The Fault In Our Stars did. Back to the niche. $14m – $15m for the weekend and a domestic total in the mid-40s. And Southpaw, which surely plays more adult and more male. Tough to find a comp, but maybe Savages from a few years ago? However, that one had more sex appeal and was all edge. Southpaw, ironically, is really a story of family and redemption. $40 million domestic total looks like a happy number from the perspective of this opening day, especially given the underwhelming media support. But with Wanda as a funder, the Chinese market could prove critical to the bottom line on this one and make the movie profitable all on its own.

In terms of the first run, Jurassic World is already past Titanic ($600m first run, another $58m in re-release domestically) and could pass Marvel’s The Avengers for #2 all-time this weekend. Is Titanic‘s first-run $1.8 billion worldwide catchable? Honestly, I don’t know the layout of the what has played out internationally well enough to tell you. China’s been milked, so I am guessing “no.”

Mr. Holmes added 325 screens and 18% Friday-to-Friday, which is solid work at that level. Roadside is releasing the film at a slightly hotter clip than they did Mud, which is their top grosser ever, and Holmes seems up to the challenge. The film probably tops out at about $25 million with Roadside, whereas Searchlight or Weinstein or Sony Classics may well have ridden it to another $10 or $15 million on top of that. Still, an unquestionable success.

Samba, release by Broad Green, is the only $10k-per-screen art house movie this weekend that isn’t an ethnic play.

Chinese superhero parody Pancake Man is off to a strong U.S. start, as it has been in most countries it has played. Over $20k per-screen seems likely for the weekend on 13. And now I am anxious to find out if there is a subtitled version out there so I can see it too.

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Sandler and Pixels and Netflix, Oh My!

sandler-651

I’m not reviewing Chris Columbus’ new film because… what’s the point? Adam Sandler is in it, so obviously it’s a trigger to Armageddon.

The Wedding Singer, The Waterboy, and 50 First Dates are all movies I would recommend without restraint. He has had 29 other movies as the lead. I like a few of them (Zohan, Anger Management, Hotel Transylvania), admire the effort of a couple (Funny People, Punch Drunk Love, Grown Ups), and have various degrees of emotion, from “meh” to active contempt for the rest.

Why do they make Adam Sandler movies? Fourteen $100 million domestic grossers in 16 years. Tom Cruise has had 16 in 21 years. Tom Hanks has had 18 in 24 years. Eddie Murphy had 14 in 22 years, though a group-leading five of those were animated.

There is no era of cinema in which Adam Sandler would not be a major movie star whose film were made. And truly, with $100m+ grossers in 2012 and 2013, this is one of the few eras in which he’d be run off to Netflix to get paid “full value” for his services.

Pixels was not his idea.

And the guy who directed Harry Potter and Home Alone was directing.

If it was Jack Black and Ben Stiller, how would critics feel about this film?

Still imperfect… but I would expect to see less rage.

I wish it were better. But it’s not the most frustrating or worst major release of this summer. Or is it?

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Review-ish: Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (spoiler-free)

mission_-impossible-rogue-nation_still2

It’s good.

Christopher McQuarrie wins the “Best Written Mission: Impossible Movie” title. The story is clear. The characters are appropriately hyper-real, but grounded and their behavior follows logically. There are mysteries that keep unraveling. And it doesn’t choke you with details that can’t be deciphered without 27 watchings.

Cruise is good. Pegg is great. Newcomer Rebecca Ferguson has a very real chance at being a part of our cinematic conversation for decades to come. Sean Harris is just right and just weird enough. Really excellent casting all around.

Joe Kraemer does a terrific job with the music, mixing the original theme with Turandot and his own stuff. Robert Elswitt is consummate.

So what is keeping this film from greatness?

My take is that it’s McQuarrie’s direction.

It’s not horrible. It’s not even bad. And I don’t know how things went in the cutting room. But, for instance, there is one terrible habit in the film, which is cutting away from most of the big action beats just before the exact thing that the audience is ready to see happen.

You’ve seen the ads with Mr. Cruise hanging off the side of the plane. “Open the door, Benji!” Cool enough. But Cruise getting from outside to inside when the door finally opens? We don’t see it. Likewise, when he later exits the plane… cutaway before he is fully out and free from harm’s way.

For me, this happened more than a half-dozen times in the film and took me out of the moment of what should have been glorious each time. A few of them could be attributed—though I have not heard any discussion of them—to a PG-13 issue. Seeing where the knife goes in during a scene might have been enough for an R. But not all of them.

In some cases, I thought maybe the CG just wasn’t good enough when it got completed. Or maybe it was sliced for budget. Don’t know.

But what I love about McQuarrie’s The Way of the Gun, for instance, is just how willing McQuarrie is to linger in the discomfort. Not here.

And honestly, as I recall Jack Reacher, which was good, but similarly, it was so close but so far from the glory to which it aspired. Some filmmakers are gifted at pulling punches. It’s almost like McQuarrie would rather leave you feeling something missing than to work around what he isn’t allowed(?) to show.

As I watched M:I-RN, I thought a lot about Billy Friedkin and how he would have made this movie. A little less big. A little more real. And in my imagination, more satisfying… based on this really smart script.

The other thing – and again, I haven’t see the raw footage, so what do I know? – but this film relies on editing a lot for pace. Too much. And along with that, way too many close-ups… always. Punching into a close-up now and again is one thing, but this film felt like they were punching out to the occasional two-shot. And even most of the two-shots were composed close-ups, but not as stylized overall as The Thomas Crown Affair.

And yet… I do like this movie.

Good villains. Did I mention Rebecca Ferguson, who is a chameleon whose face easily holds the screen in a tight, make-up-light close-up? She is a winner. Baldwin and Renner are best as a comedy duo here. Simon Pegg is aces. And the big action sequences generally work… except for the shorted punchlines.

One last comment. Ferguson and Pegg look way too much like Michelle Monaghan and this film’s Sean Harris for this to be a coincidence. But it remains part of the film’s subtext, never really spoken to out loud, But it has to mean something to McQuarrie. I mean, it is so close. There is even a direct close-up with Pegg and Harris that invites us to make the facial comparison close-up. They looks so similar that I really considered the idea that Pegg was playing both roles, with prosthetics to turn him into the other character. I don’t know what it means. But I am fascinated. I will be interested to see if it becomes a conversation as the film rolls out.

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BYOB Weekend

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Weekend Estimates by Lenwreck

Weekend Estimates 2015-07-19 at 8.51.24 AM

Considering the challenges of Ant-Man, there is nothing wrong with this opening, even though it is the weakest Disney opening of a Marvel film so far. It’s comparable to the Universal opening of the second Hulk, which went on to “just” $135m domestic and $263 million worldwide. Of course, that was not seen as a financial success because it wasn’t doing a Spider-Man or X-Men level of business.

Fox should be a big help to Marvel before their next second-tier character film, Doctor Strange. Fox has four Marvel movies on the schedule (Fantastic Four, Deadpool, X-Men: Apocalypse, and Gambit) and Marvel/Disney only one (Captain America: Civil War) before Strange is due next November. Two of the Fox films are named for and focused on second or even third tier Marvel characters. It’s very important to Marvel that the Fox films succeed, especially the two offbeat titles. Non-industry-watchers aren’t don’t carefully distinguish which studio is making which film. Either there is going to be some fresh excitement about comic book movies, which expands audience interest… or there is going to be some ennui, lading to more dangerous opening days.

By the way… Real-D is very excited that Ant-Man is one of four 3D films in the Top 5 this weekend… and that its the sixth film this summer to sell 40% or more (high being 48%) of its tickets to 3D buyers. This celebration of success is also a reminder of how marginalized 3D was getting in the last couple of years… and how small a percentage of tickets 3D has represented since the explosive moment of Avatar. We seem to be settling into a pattern, at least for now. 43% or so of tickets sold in 3D for spectacles.

Minions had a good hold, considering last weekend’s massive number.

Trainwreck was anything but, the estimate just over the $30 million mark, which notably puts it just ahead of the opening of Spy, which is not just another female-led comedy, but is the #2 non-animated comedy of the summer so far, behind only Pitch Perfect 2. Somewhere between 3 and 4 million people paid to see this film this weekend, which is a bigger audience for the film than Schumer has ever had for an episode of her show. This is a great success for Schumer, Apatow, and Universal marketing. It also, for better or worse, shows the power of wall-to-wall publicity, as Schumer seemed to eat the media landscape in the last couple of weeks. The good news here is that the movie is strong and will likely have good holds as it heads for the $100m mark.

By the way… I imagine I will be disappointed if I expect to see a single story about the number of Originals doing well this summer. The Trainwreck opening means that 50% of the Top 12 summer openings are Originals. Two more are the first sequels to Originals. Do we still have to read endless pieces about the sky falling because of sequels, spin-offs, and comic book movies?

Great holds continue for Inside Out and Jurassic World.

Mr. Holmes is king of the indies for the weekend, with $2.4 million on 363 screens ($6580 average). The new Woody Allen, Irrational Man, picked up steam over the weekend, estimated at $36,460 per screen on 5 after a $10k per-screen launch on Friday, but it’s still n the low end of Woody openings. Also flexing some muscle was The Stanford Prison Experiment, with $19k per on two.

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Next Ovation Episodes… Southpaw

Screen Shot 2015-07-18 at 3.17.39 PM

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What Is Tracking?

I encountered a proposition on Twitter this morning that, somehow, tracking on Trainwreck as reported by the trades, was lower than what the Friday gross suggests the weekend number will be, in some attempt to damage the film because it centered on a woman.

Phew!

There are many absurdities piled on others to get to that presumption. But I am not writing this to mock the smart person proposing this notion, but to simply clarify the layers and what is real versus what is completely imaginary.

Tracking is a marketing tool. There are a lot of numbers and math involved, but to simplify, it is a survey-based projection of awareness and interest in seeing movies that are being released in the near future. It was formerly done by phone surveying, which has inherent flaws. Reaching teens on home phones became challenging once cell phones took off. These days, reaching a group that is representative of the ticket-buying audience on home phones is almost impossible. Which is why they all switched to internet surveying in the last few years. But ethnic audiences still seem to be harder to reach. Younger moviegoers are poorly represented in these surveys.

Of course, these problems are supposed to be adjusted for statistically. Sometimes it works better than other times. But you will find, if you look at tracking or even just read what is reported, that guesses at box office based on tracking are consistently wrong. Sometimes by a little. Sometimes by a lot.

For instance, in early June, Melissa McCarthy’s Spy was guessed to open at $30 million and came in only 3% off of that estimate. On the other hand, that same weekend, Insidious Chapter 3, was “tracked” at 10% more than its actual opening. A few weeks before release, Minions was reported to be tracking at one-third less than its actual opening. By the days before opening, the range of trackers had the opening at $95 million to $110 million… a wide berth that was still $6 million shy of reality. Two days before Ted 2 opened, the tracking alleged the film would open to between $45-$55 million. It opened to $34 million, missing by 25% in the kindest reading. Likewise, Magic Mike XXL allegedly tracked to open to $28m over 3 days and missed by $12.9m or 54%.

Some well-informed readers will either comment or send e-mails about how the tracking numbers I am citing are wrong. I can’t and won’t argue. As noted before… different people read tracking differently. I am pointing out published claims about tracking. No question, others saw it differently before, during, and after.

In reality, we non-insiders – even we well-educated guessers of the media – don’t know how well tracking works. We know the number that someone manufactured as the guess at box office at one or more studios. But we don’t know whether the studio had fairly accurate detailed information about each film going into those opening weekends.

If you are watching the marketing, you can often see tactic shifts in the weeks leading into a release. Part of Universal’s strategy on Trainwreck, for instance, was to make the film more accessible to guys with plenty of ads emphasizing LeBron James and the Bill Hader character’s relationship to sports. This led to some reviews overstating the sports element of the film, actually criticizing the film. But if guys going to the movie with their female beloveds this weekend were willing – unlike Magic Mike – then Universal won… and that seems to be the case. Tactically, sometime last week, the studio may have seen reasons to push male or female, older or younger… all looking to maximize the opening. That is what tracking is for.

Studios do, to some degree, feel the zeitgeist. But tracking and other tools are there to quantify the situation, as the bubble most studio execs live in often leads to false reads of the national audience.

Tracking is meant to let marketing departments know whether the public is aware of their movies. It is meant to advise them as to which elements in their marketing are connecting with audiences… and which element with which demographic. And as they get closer to release, it is meant to give them some idea how the marketing message us translating into Must See and Want To See and disinterest in seeing.

How the raw numbers are crunched means a lot. And every studio reads them a little differently.

And yes, every studio has projected internal estimates of what the weekend box office might be, based on these figures. But historically, each studio’s estimates do not match the others.

And historically, tracking was (and is still meant to be) a private document. The first reason for this is that the price of tracking is very high and it is sold to subscribers, not given away for free. But as we have learned in recent years, the reason to keep tracking private is that it is wildly misused and misunderstood by the media.

In the years before Nikki Finke set up a “Studios tell me to say…” faux box office analysis that got its weekly Drudge link (making her pieces on box office valuable marketing real estate), those of us who wrote about box office would occasionally get so interested in a particular title that we would seek and usually get tracking info on Movie X from sources at studios. Sometimes we would even get the raw tracking, which was of little use to most.

But to get the edge, Finke started two horrible habits that have now metastasized across media. One is “reporting” tracking before movies open. The other is “reporting” Friday east coast matinees numbers and projecting the whole weekend’s box office on Friday early afternoon, LA time. The Friday habit is just bad journalism. Yes, those numbers can tell you if a film is in a lot of trouble or doing a lot better than expected. But they after often 20% or more off in terms of projecting Friday’s numbers, much less the weekend’s. But the tracking thing is much more insidious.

Since media is now “reporting” what they think – usually, “have been told” – the tracking means early in the week or even the week before, it is now the job of the studios to spin those numbers even before the first dollar hits the box office. The most obvious ploy is selling the idea that a film is going to open as softly as possible, so if the film does a lot better, it’s a big positive surprise and if it remains modest, it is not a “disappointment.”

So, in a case like Trainwreck – I have no specific knowledge of how this played out with press – Universal would likely be out there, on background, explaining how poorly the film is doing in tracking… looking like it would do mid-teens numbers, all the while thinking it would probably be mid-20s. After encouraging Friday matinee numbers, the studio would surely still be advising that media maintain an even strain… don’t get carried away… it could be an illusion.

This morning, with studios doing official Friday estimates (another phenomenon in published box office which really didn’t happen until Finke made it a habit), the story is that Trainwreck is doing better than tracking but not as good as Friday east coast matinees expected. See… there is a tinge of negativity in there… for no real reason… other than a story ran overreaching reality on Friday afternoon. That is what studios work to avoid. No one wants negativity.

So now the bar is set again. The film did an estimated $10.6 million, including $1.6m on Thursday night… so the pressure is on to get to/near $30 million… or at least close enough to estimate a number that will be seen as a big win when Sunday estimates are reported all day on Sunday. Today the problem for Universal is if the film doesn’t hit $30 million, will it be positioned as “disappointing,” for no logical reason at all… except that some journalist stepped up their personal, unfounded expectations.

Spy opened to a $10.3 million Friday and hit $29 million back in June. But then again, Spy opened against Insidious Chapter 3, which was a horror film that did $23m that weekend, not Ant-Man, a very family-friendly comic book movie that will do something around $60 million. The market can expand enough for box films to do whatever number… but one wonders what the Saturday bumps for each will look like and if date night will lean to the Ant for some couples. We don’t actually know. So we guess.

But it’s not a game, of course. There are real numbers that will occur. When they happen, they will be news. But that would only be one page view… not 6 through weekend updates.

And unfortunately, the difference between how Trainwreck opening to $20 million and $30 million is reported in a much more dramatic way than reality would demand.

The now-classic cautionary tale of a summer movie whose opening was “a disappointment” was Melissa McCarthy’s Tammy, which opened to $2 million more than half what The Heat opened to and $13m less than Identity Thief. But the film went on to do 4x opening and cracked $100m worldwide, turning a strong profit against a $20m budget. (Yes, I was one who kicked the film too early.) By the way… as long as I am ripping on misused stats… CinemaScore came up with a C+ for the film, which would do 4x that opening weekend.

All of this rolls back to the original issue… extrapolating subtext in tracking based on the misuse of tracking. Silly. And a result of readers thinking they are now familiar and/or have an understanding of tracking by reading about it each week, but by reading writers who also know almost nothing about tracking except for what they are told by marketing departments… which is not just a problem of subject-generated news, but of not asking the deeper layer or questions where real issues can be addressed.

I have been writing about box office for longer than any working box office writer except for Len Klady, who works here at MCN. I am not an expert on tracking. None of the writers who I see out there – at the trades or elsewhere – is an expert on tracking. Nothing personal… just the fact.

And of course, this doesn’t start to touch on the absurdity of counting the money while it’s sitting on the table, focusing almost exclusively on domestic, rarely examining costs, etc.

If you are upset about a movie and how it is tracking, you are just looking for a reason to be upset. It is in no one’s interest – not the tracking companies nor the studios nor the press – to be wrong about how a movie is going to do. Even when a studio is trying to get a producer off its back, trying to prove that they are doing everything they can, false expectations within that private circle can lead nowhere good after opening weekend.

And that’s what I have to say about that.

(Edited to note the shift to online surveying.)

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Friday Estimates by Ant Len

Friday Estimates 2015-07-18 at 8.51.18 AM

Ant-Man is a little behind Captain America: The First Avenger and Thor, but Marvel has to feel pretty good about this number.

Trainwreck opens a little behind Spy, but Judd Apatow and Universal have to feel pretty great about this opening.

Minions‘ 65% drop of Friday will likely translate to something in the low 50s for the weekend. Solid. The film will easily pass $500 million worldwide this weekend. Looks like $35m or so ahead of Inside Out domestically after 2 weekends, as that film closes in on (or passes) $500 million worldwide as well.

Jurassic World, now past $600 million domestic, is starting to slow a bit. But it has now passed the first-run domestic gross of Titanic (with the domestic total still possible) and will pass The Avengers‘ domestic total next weekend.

This is the best looking indie weekend in a while. Openings of Irrational Man ($10.5k per on 5 on Friday) and The Stanford Prison Experiment ($5050 per on 2 on Friday) were strong while with a 363 screen opening, Mr. Holmes managed $1791 per screen to start.

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BYOB Humpday

byobhumpday

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Weekend Estimates by Klady Mignon

Weekend Estimates 2015-07-12 at 9.19.57 AM

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Friday Estimates by Jagged Yellow Klady

Friday Estimates 2015-07-11 at 8.08.29 AM

Minions had #1 animation opening day of all-time… and amazingly, only the fourth best opening day of this summer.

The idea that there is anything negative to say about this opening is foolish. Big win. No Penguins of Madagascar letdown. New records broken by this Universal summer.

It is time to point out again that Universal has a very different schedule next summer, which is not a tentpole city, and which could – like last year – be hugely profitable without all the crazy numbers of this summer. There are many ways to skin a cat in the film business, even if the media is a size queen.

Dropping off heavily on Friday, for the first time since the inevitable second Friday drops, were Inside Out and Jurassic World. It will be interesting to see how each bounces back over the weekend.

Newcomers The Gallows and Self/Less picked a bad weekend. Warner Bros offered up a pretty clear picture of what The Gallows is and what it offers, though it did look a bit more like a murderous ride at an amusement park than the next iteration of Freddy & Jason. Focus/Gramercy didn’t do a great job establishing just why we needed to see Self/Less, much less to see it mid-summer.

Terminator Genisys‘ Friday was off 63% and remember, last Friday was not opening day, so this drop is pretty rough. $100 million domestic is looking very far off.

Magic Mike XXL is looking like a $65m-70m domestic grosser, which is still an all-in winner for Warner Bros… just not the cash machine the first one was. The big question will still be international and whether it matches that number or doubles it. Magic Mike III: Look at The Veins In My Penis will be directed by Eli Roth and go direct to Netflix.

On the indie side, strong starts for Tangerine and Do I Sound Gay? on four screens and one, respectively.

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How New Directors End Up In The Studio System

This survey was originally titled “The Male Director Challenge.” You can find out why, in detail, here.

The basic idea was to answer the question being posed often these days about why so many more men are directing studio movies than women. Answers to the question, mine included, tend to be a bit off the cuff. And I would prefer to have some facts going into any serious conversation.

The standard I set for myself was any first-time major studio director with a non-animated film that ended up grossing in the Top 50 of any of the last 15 years, 1999 – 2014. This means it is, naturally, a somewhat incomplete list. But it feels to me like there is some insight here.

There are 101 people who became studio directors for the first time in the last 15 years. Some are amongst the biggest working these days… some have never made another film.

Of the 101, only 3 are women. Sharon Maguire, Phyllida Law, and Anne Fletcher.

(Why is Ava DuVernay not on this list? Selma ended up as the #61 film of 2015. That is the quirk of this survey. She is not alone. There are others who might have made the list were it not for under-#50-grossing films that were for studios in this time period, leaving them as ghosts.)

The question of how many “people of color” is a lot more complicated, as there is a good-sized chunk of non-Americans that so qualify. That said, there are only three African-Americans on this list of 101.

There are all kinds of stories about how these folks got to be studio directors and many fit into multiple categories of prior history getting there. But the biggest group by far is people who have already made independent feature films. Fourteen of the thirty-four newcomers in this group are people who came from other countries.

1999 – Notting Hill – Roger Michell
2001 – The Others – Alejandro Amenábar
2003 – Gothika – Mathieu Kassovitz
2004 – The Bourne Supremacy – Paul Greengrass
2004 – The Grudge – Takashi Shimizu
2005 – Flightplan – Robert Schwentke
2005 – The Ring Two – Hideo Nakata
2006 – The Pursuit of Happyness – Gabriele Muccino
2009 – Taken – Pierre Morel
2010 – The Tourist – Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
2011 – Rise of the Planet of the Apes – Rupert Wyatt
2012 – Safe House – Daniel Espinosa
2012 – Contraband – Baltasar Kormákur
2013 – Mama – Andy Muschietti

1999 – The Sixth Sense – M. Night Shyamalan
1999 – The Matrix – The Wachowskis
1999 – Inspector Gadget – David Kellogg
2000 – Gone in 60 Seconds – Domenic Sena
2002 – Insomnia – Christopher Nolan
2003 – American Wedding – Jesse Dylan
2003 – Legally Blonde 2: Red, White and Blonde – Charles Herman-Wurmfeld
2005 – Saw II – Darren Lynn Bousman
2005 – The Exorcism of Emily Rose – Scott Derrickson
2005 – The Family Stone – Thomas Bezucha
2006 – Nacho Libre – Jared Hess
2007 – Stomp the Yard – Sylvain White
2008 – What Happens in Vegas – Tom Vaughn
2008 – Cloverfield – Matt Reeves
2012 – The Vow – Michael Sucsy
2012 – Looper – Rian Johnson
2014 – Guardians of the Galaxy – James Gunn
2014 – Godzilla – Gareth Edwards
2014 – The Fault in our Stars – Josh Boone
2014 – 300: Rise of An Empire – Noam Murro

The next biggest group of new directors came from television roots, both here and abroad.

1999 – She’s All That – Robert Iscove
1999 – House on Haunted Hill – William Malone
2000 – Bring It On – Peyton Reed
2000 – Coyote Ugly – David McNally
2000 – Snow Day – Chris Koch
2000 – Final Destination – James Wong
2001 – Bridget Jones’ Diary – Sharon Maguire
2002 – The Santa Clause 2 – Michael Lembeck
2003 – S.W.A.T. – Clark Johnson
2005 – Sahara – Breck Eisner
2005 – White Noise – Geoffrey Sax
2006 – Borat – Larry Charles
2007 – Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – David Yates
2008 – Sex and the City – Michael Patrick King
2011 – The Muppets – James Bobin
2012 – Pitch Perfect – Jason Moore
2012 – Chronicle – Josh Trank

The next group is the much-maligned Music Video/Advertising group.

2000 – The Cell – Tarsem Singh
2000 – Next Friday – Steve Carr
2000 – Shanghai Noon – Tom Dey
2001 – Behind Enemy Lines – John Moore
2002 – Barbershop – Tim Story
2003 – The Texas Chainsaw Massacre – Marcus Nispel
2004 – DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story – Rawson Marshall Thurber
2005 – Constantine – Francis Lawrence
2005 – The Amityville Horror – Andrew Douglas
2010 – Tron Legacy – Joseph Kosinski
2012 – Snow White and the Huntsman – Rupert Sanders

The groupings get much smaller from here.

ANIMATION
2005 – The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – Andrew Adamson
2011 – Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol – Brad Bird
2012 – 21 Jump Street – Miller & Lord
2012 – John Carter – Andrew Stanton

EFFECTS
2006 – Eragon – Stefen Fangmeier
2008 – Journey to the Center of the Earth – Eric Brevig
2009 – G – Force – Hoyt Yeatman
2014 – Maleficent – Robert Stromberg

SHORT FILMS
2001 – Legally Blonde – Robert Luketic
2008 – Four Christmases – Seth Gordon
2009 – District 9 – Neill Blomkamp
2009 – Zombieland – Ruben Fleisher
2009 – Hotel for Dogs – Thor Freudenthal

SCREENWRITERS
1999 – American Pie – The Weisz Brothers
2002 – Two Weeks Notice – Marc Lawrence
2004 – Along Came Polly – John Hamburg
2008 – Forgetting Sarah Marshall – Nicholas Stoller

THEATER
1999 – American Beauty – Sam Mendes
2002 – Chicago – Rob Marshall
2008 – Mamma Mia! – Phyllida Law

CREATORS
2009 – Paranormal Activity – Oren Peli
2012 – Ted – Seth MacFarlane

RELATIONSHIP DRIVEN
2001 – American Pie 2 – J.B. Rogers
2001 – The Animal – Luke Greenfield
2002 – Jackass: The Movie – Jeff Tremaine
2006 – V for Vendetta – James McTeague
2006 – Step Up – Anne Fletcher
2007 – Blades of Glory – Josh Gordon/Will Speck

And finally,”Other Professions.” There is a top-end veteran cinematographer and writer/producers and an actor-turned-choreographer-turned-director, etc.

1999 – Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo – Mike Mitchell
2000 – Romeo Must Die – Andrzej Bartkowiak
2001 – Cats & Dogs – Lawrence Guterman
2001 – The Wedding Planner – Adam Shankman
2002 – The Time Machine – Simon Wells
2004 – Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy – Adam McKay
2007 – TMNT – Kevin Munroe
2009 – Couples Retreat – Peter Billingsley
2012 – Act of Valor – Mouse McCoy/Scott Waugh
2014 – The Maze Runner – Wes Ball

Had I included 2015 in this survey, only Elizabeth Banks would be on the list so far. And she would have to be in the “Creators” or “Other Professions” group because she got the gig after producing the original film back to life… which is not that rare for a sequel, but not often a way in to the first studio gig on an original.

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Paramount & The Stupidity of the Short Distance Runner (Pt 3 of 3 – Does This Matter?)

“It’s the future!”

“Stop fighting it. It’s stupid to leave a space between theatrical and Home Entertainment.”

“The future is digital! The future is change!”

No film has ever grossed $50 million in direct digital sales.

But surely, one will someday.

The simple question is whether the film industry is willing to risk the theatrical exhibition industry’s future to find out.

Th simple idea that seems to elude many is that while specific events can be manipulated (or have natural momentum) to expand the marketplace for a time, the overall market is finite. And the trend line in film entertainment continues to head towards a subscription-based universe and away from a la carte. But there are reasons why people make a la carte investments in movies. Getting out of the house and getting relatively inexpensive entertainment is a part of it for every age. For under 30s, there is a real excitement about seeing something early. And for people over 30, there is word of mouth that drives interest.

VOD for independents has been important because there is a functional cap on distribution. There are only so many screens and so many ad dollars and though “prints” are cheaper these days, only so many prints under an indie budget. VOD expands the market for these films.

This is not the issue with wide studio releases. Very little of the market is out of the range of a wide release. VOD is an extension of the theatrical release, not a needed expansion.

So what is the benefit of VOD for wide release major studio films? Well, the internal perception of those pushing the agenda is that it will expand the market. Also that because the return is slightly better, per unit sold, on VOD, that it will be more profitable. However, the fact that one person or 10 people can watch a rented film makes this imaginary concept dubious.

Let’s say 14 million people went to Harry Potter 7b in the US and Canada the weekend it opened, generating roughly $85 million for WB. The dream of day-n-date is that 20 million completely different households would so want to see the Potter finale on their home TVs that they would pay $30 to see it, maybe see it twice or three times, on that weekend, and generate $450m – $500m for WB. The prayer continues that the home revenue would not affect the theatrical.

Harry Potter‘s finale is the uber example and even there, the numbers seem iffy. No doubt, millions would buy VOD for it, many of whom had never purchased VOD before. No doubt, many more millions would see the film on TV that weekend, having been unlikely to see it in a theater. But what is the actual balance? How much cannibalism? And how much long-term (other non-theatrical) cannibalism? And would the home number be 20 million or 10 million or 5 million?

The biggest question, to me, remains, how much cannibalism will it take to start shutting down theaters? My estimate is, broadly, about 20%.

But it gets worse…

Because by taking the focus off theatrical exclusively in the early days and adding VOD whose pricing is controlled nationally and not by region, all of a sudden price competition becomes a part of the movie business. And that is a disaster waiting to happen.

The idea of discounting slow theatrical days or matinees has never been an issue for me. But when it becomes studio specific or “quality” specific, all of a sudden, there is a class system that causes potential viewers to question their spending. Never good.

But wait… I am discussing day-n-date in depth, when this effort by Paramount is not for day-n-date.

Why? Because the creep will creep… it always does.

But let’s go back to the deal on the table. Two weeks after a movie goes to under 300 screens, it can go into Home Entertainment distribution. Is that really such a big deal?

Well, firstly, it’s a moving target. So consumers can’t really follow it. They will only know when something is put in front of them. “Hey… if no one went to see it, you can see it really soon!” Great sales pitch, eh?

You wanna see April release Furious 7 on your TV in mid-July? Sorry. It’ll be another month. Avengers, too! But Aloha, you’re good to go.

The more the industry complicates its release patterns, the more likely consumers are to move on to some other kind of entertainment, especially when it’s still a minimum of 6 weeks since the giant push of theatrical. And with that thought, studios will shake their heads and say, “You’re right… let’s work to make it four weeks.”

That’s why I am discussing day-n-date. That is the fantasy… the Eden… the apple.

I have been saying for a very long time that I expect the future to offer only two distinct windows. Theatrical and post-theatrical. There will obviously be variables in post-theatrical, but those will be financial hurdles, not opportunity hurdles (for the most part).

I think that NATO and its members should absolutely be willing to go down the road with The Studios on shorter windows for lower-grossing product. I makes sense. If they can share some of the upside and downside, that’s a good business. The trouble, of course, will be that it could be very damaging to indie distributors who now are able to get that material for a price and make a reasonable profit. As we saw with indie, the majors will be more than happy to come in and trying to put that money in their portfolio too (until they get bored and/or frustrated).

But on bigger movies, I would be discussing widening the theatrical window, not shortening it. How can you make theatrical legs longer and more profitable for both sides? How can the line be more clear between theatrical and post-theatrical?

Paramount told the Wall Street Journal that a survey they did indicated that people were not aware of the 90-day-window. Of course they aren’t. No one has told them about it. No one has to… no one should. But who hasn’t heard a friend or many friends say, “I can wait for the DVD” or for it to come on cable. I would bet nearly everyone has. When the industry signals to audiences that the theatrical experience isn’t important, it becomes less important. This is simple human nature. The industry spends scores of millions on practically each film trying to convince people they HAVE TO GO SEE IT NOW and then, our of the side of their mouth, they say, “Ehhh… it’ll be available cheaper and more easily soon.”

Where is the highest revenue per person? Theatrical. Where is the indication that you lose a lot of eyeballs on a popular movie because it takes time to get to Home Entertainment? There is none… just the gut feeling that they shouldn’t be paying for more ads to sell it.

Follow The Money. Always.

Part 1 – Getting Here

Part 2 – What Paramount Is Doing

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Paramount & The Stupidity of the Short Distance Runner (Pt 2 of 3 – What Par Is Doing)

So… today’s announcement via the Wall Street Journal (also here, if you don’t have a WSJ subscription) is about how Paramount is breaking the windows system and how this is a game changer.

Our usually very smart friends at the Wall Street Journal seemed so anxious to ring the bell for the revolution, that they didn’t notice what was actually being spun before their eyes.

The two movies in play here are both throwaways for Paramount. Both have been delayed more than six months from original release dates… the Paranormal movie will be released a full year after its intended release. This is marginal product. (I actually liked the idea offered in the trailer for the Paranormal film… but when you start showing your secrets, you also must know that the joke is played out.)

And what has been negotiated is what the majors have not been able to do because of their relationship with exhibitors in the past… created early VOD. It’s not quite at day-n-date VOD yet, but the freedom to do this with movies that have little theatrical upside is understandably attractive to the majors. These companies have been – especially Sony Classics, Searchlight, and Focus – squeezed out of a revenue opportunity because they are in the families of the majors.

In the case of Paramount, they created Insurge coming off of the success of Paranormal Activities in 2009, hoping to capitalize. They suffered diminishing returns. And now they are doing two things. They are, indeed, creating a framework in which majors can, in some cases, do earlier VOD in partnership with theatrical. And I think that this is good.

On the last Paranormal Activity film, Paramount brought in 87.5% of the gross by the end of the first two weekends. This is the box office nature of many horror films. I get it.

From there on, it was drops in the 70s every week. And Paramount dropped it to below 300 screens for Weekend 5. So it would be available for VOD on Weekend 7, according to this plan as offered in the WSJ. By then, the film was doing less than $50k a weekend and yeah… it was over.

But when Poltergeist fell under 300 screens, earlier this summer, they were still generating over $200k a weekend. Hot Pursuit, $100k. Tomorrowland, $400k. There were four major studio releases on under 300 screens last weekend with per-screen grosses over $1000.

And the way studios have worked historically – and if you have any doubt that the shortening window was created with intent by the studios themselves, you need to educate yourself – is that they push for Shortened Window Creep until they realize that it is costing them money. It’s happened a couple times in the last 20 years that I have been following this closely. Big hard pushes for day-n-date and then… silence for a while. But then they forget again. There are real financial ramifications to shortening the theatrical window.

By the way, comparisons of this proposal to the Tower Heist stand-off are simply idiotic.
1. Tower Heist was an expensive movie and a major release.
2. Universal did not engage exhibition in talks before announcing their intentions.
3. The idea there was day-n-date for premium pricing, which is not what is happening here at all.

Paramount told the Wall Street Journal that they hope to have the same deal that they are planning to announce soon for these two throwaways for all of their films. But Rob Moore also told WSJ (he must have been on the phone to keep the reporter from seeing his smirk), “If no other exhibitors agree to the new terms, Paramount will still release the movies with just those two chains, said Mr. Moore, potentially forgoing millions of dollars in box-office revenue.”

I call “bullshit.” Again? BULLSHIT!

AMC and Cineplex have about 550 theaters in the US and Canada. That’s about 10% of the theaters in the US and Canada. (Stats by NATO.)

I assume that Sumner Redstone’s National Amusements will join in with their 1500 screens (not sure how many theaters that is).

But are Will Ferrell and Ben Stiller, amongst many others, going to be happy with their distribution opportunity being shrunk by 85% so the studio can chase a shorted post-theatrical window? I wonder how Skydance and other funders who are in business with Paramount will feel about this line in the sand. You tell me.

But even if other major exhibitors agree to this arrangement, it gives a lot of control to the distributors… control that they have proven that they will abuse in pursuit of an idea.

It wasn’t long ago that a major distribution chief openly noted that studios were intentionally leaving millions, even 10s of millions, on the table for some movies just to get to the Home Entertainment gold mine that was DVD.

Last weekend, Insidious Chapter 3 dropped 72%, grossing just $558k towards its $51.2m total on 651 screens. Will it drop under 300 screens this weekend? Probably not. Maybe just over. But if the option was there to get it to VOD and other post-theatrical earlier, given where the film is now, could change that. All of a sudden, it is strategy. And if it takes one or twho weeks out of the theatrical run of that film, who cares (goes the saw)?

That is how you get a slow, steady creep that changes moviegoing behaviors. That is how movie theaters end up closing. And once they are gone, they are not likely to come back.

Of course, maybe Rob Moore believes his pitch lines. “Our expectation is that total revenue will rise and the theatrical revenue will be relatively unaffected, if at all.” I guess he hasn’t really looked at the years of data coming from the independent world and its VOD strategies. After years of swearing by day-n-date or slightly delayed VOD, we now see indies experimenting with – gasp – theatrical ones without an artificial end date seeking to maximize revenues for the titles that have a legitimate chance of generating bigger numbers.

Paramount, it seems, is a company looking for an edge, as it struggles to find a clear voice as a studio. This makes Paramount very dangerous. They can roll the dice.

Part 1 – Getting Here

Part 3 – Does This Matter?

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