The Hot Blog Archive for October, 2004

"The Academy Has Reasoned…"

Let me say, now and forever, that anyone who tells you that “the Academy reasons” is a fool or a salesman.

The Academy does have tendencies. But the idea that it reasons in any way with groupthink is a silly, silly idea. It’s one of those phrases that people use, like testing, as an excuse for missing the boat.

The Passion of The Christ will make it to a Best Picture nomination if about 800 Academy members are passionate enough about the film to vote for it as their favorite. It’s that simple. The same is as true for The Aviator as it is for Sideways as it is for Fahrenheit 9/11.

The statement theory is certainly true of critics group that meet and vote through a process of voting and revoting. It can be true of the membership of less than 100 in the HFPA. But have you ever tried to pick a restaurant with 3 show biz types? Have you ever listen to them order food? And 6000 of them are independently of one mind, sending a message?

The truths of Academy watching are sometimes black, sometimes gray and sometimes opaque… but when someone tells you what “The Academy thinks,” you can look for an agenda and how that “thinking” matches it about 98% of the time.

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Weekend Box Office

Sigh…

It’s one of those weekends where “I told you so” has an odd personal reverb because I don’t really know who I told what…

My sense on Team America has been that Paramount had its head turned by the high percentage of critical support. But I knew School of Rock, sir, and Team America is no School of Rock.

Team America is a movie that Bob Weinstein could have opened to double the gross, much as he handled the far superior Bad Santa last year.

Why didn’t you see Retard Matt Damon or Alec Baldwin – F.A.G. or Susan Sarandon being insulted as an aging actress losing her skills and her looks in the advertising? After all, this is a movie that not only has no real stars, but is populated by puppets. Because Paramount has a Susan Sarandon movie coming out in a few weeks (Alfie) and would like to have Matt Damon and Alec Baldwin and Sean Penn and George Clooney, etc, etc, etc movies coming out in the future. The movie may cause these people some discomfort, but that’s on Parker & Stone. Making these stars into objects of ridicule in commercials is another thing indeed. Of course, Miramax/Dimension, which markets with balls of steel, would just barrel forward and sell what they had to sell.

Remember, as I have always said, opening weekend is about marketing, not the movie. So even though I don’t think the movie pays off as richly as anticipated, this weekend was just about the message coming out in ads and publicity. And isn’t it ironic that after the crashing thud of Thunderbirds, Paramount decided to sell Team America as a parody of Thunderbirds (which it mostly is), with dancing puppets at cocktail hour and monuments whose heads peel back like the Batcave switch, instead of emphasizing the stuff, most of which is not R rated, that makes you go, “Oh my God, I can’t believe they did that.”

If you want a marketing lesson, look at The Incredibles, which is also primarily a satire on Bond movies with some oversized elements that makes it about “supers,” but is selling the hell out of the notion of a family of “regulars” who are unprepared to become super again… which is what it is for about one act. Smart, not because the other two acts aren’t as wondrous as the first act, but because making a satire of something that is already a bit campy is really hard… and selling it based on that element it is an act of masochism.

The financial hope for Team America, which will not gross its production cost domestically, is not just home entertainment, which will surely take the movie into the black, but international, where hating America is sport that may inspire box office returns. (No doubt, Matt Stone’s French auteurist satire Le Petit Package should have been attached to the front of the domestic release of Team America… a movie Fox Searchlight would make in Weekend Four.)

Shall We Dance also came stumbling out of the blocks, though they’re probably feeling pretty good about the per-screen average. The film the release seems to be built around is The Notebook, the summer surprise that opened to $13.5 million and held on, primarily thanks to women, young and old, to crack a breathtaking $80 million.

I doubt that Shall We Dance will have that kind of staying power. Firstly, the movie is not as good, within the genre, as The Notebook. Secondly, competition is not far away. Thanks to Paramount, Alfie is two weekends away now. But after that, there is Bridget Jones: Edge of Sanity and then, A Very Long Engagement. There were really no alternatives to The Notebook this summer.

And don’t think that New Line didn’t learn the lesson of valuing key-demo space. They moved the Joan Allen – Kevin Costner film The Upside of Anger into the spring a couple of weeks ago, realizing that they could market the film to their Notebook audience, but not in the middle of awards season insanity.

Meanwhile, no one seems to be talking about two formula films that are each going to gross more than $65 million domestically, one of them probably over $70 million… The Forgotten and Ladder 49.

Why aren’t pundits talking about these two hits? Well, The Forgotten is from Revolution Studios, released by Sony and is likely to be among the five most profitable films released by Revolution over the three years since the film started delivering movies. But Revolution is expected to be, at best, reconfigured when their deal with Sony comes up for renewal next year and has been seen as a kind of dead man walking since Claudia Eller’s wea culpa piece in the L.A. Times a few months back… and Terry Curtin’s exit ain’t exactly a shot of encouragement. So the good news goes silently into that good night, sucked into the ether like Alfre Woodard through a roof.

And Disney’s Touchstone division… woe is anyone who writes a nice word about it. Ladder 49’s box office is running just a few hundred thousand behind the beloved (and aforementioned) School of Rock, both after three weekends. It will certainly outgross Kill Bill, Volume 1. It was also more expensive than either film (once Bill was hair split), so there is that. But still, it is sure to be the second, third or fourth highest grossing movie in the “fall” season (now just September/October, as the entirety of November has become a heavy hitting “holiday” season). The fact that no one is acknowledging it tells you just how “it’s about what we like” the media has become and gives a good excuse, horrifyingly, to studios wishing to diminish the media’s roll in the lives of their films.

Finally, Napoleon Dynamite passed $40 million this weekend. Awesome! Huge kudos are deserved. And now, they have to bring Sideways, still the best American film seen this year, home to similar box office and into the awards season blazing.

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What's Shocking About The Incredibles?

The supervillain is, almost undeniably, a combination of Harry Knowles and Drew McWeeny… and I don’t mean in a “he reminds of them” way.

Syndrome, voiced by Jason Lee, has Harry’s hair, albeit the supervillain version, and in a short way, Drew’s body, Harry’s head shape and Drew’s mouth… and a strange, almost inexplicable combination of their energies.

And on top of that, Syndrome is the self-proclaimed “ultimate fan.”

Strange feeling watching that…

8 Comments »

The Stupidest Box Office Analysis Ever?!?!?

Yes, it is saying something remarkable, but a small consulting company in Camarillo called Entertainment Business Group did an analysis of this summer’s box office race and found that you could rearrange the Top Ten by… ahem… analyzing opening weekend success against the overall cost of each film.

And what does this tell you about those films?

And what does this mean in terms of business?

The answer, my friends is, NOTHING!!!!

Really… the only reason for this analysis was to get into The Hollywood Reporter. Goal achieved.

There is no question that more comprehensive analysis of winners and losers are necessary to really understand the box office results. But this “new idea” actually narrows the focus into complete irrelevance.

There is, in reality, a good story in the profitability of Fahrenheit 9/11, which probably is, based on rough quick calculations this morning, the fourth most profitable film of last summer, scoring between $175 million and $225 million in profit, all in.

Spider-Man 2 will, all told, return between $250 million and $350 million in profits to Sony, depending on contractual obligations about which almost no one outside of Sony business affairs knows all the details. That makes it second to Shrek 2’s roughly $600 million in profits and in roughly the same profit category of Harry Potter & The Prisoner of Azkaban.

Floating somewhere just below, but near F9/11 are Dodgeball and The Day After Tomorrow.

The idea that these “consultants” offer, that The Village earned the #3 slot on any summer chart that is not a manipulated scam, is beyond belief. The film, seen by many as a failure, did turn a nice profit. But if ranked on profitability, the film drops lower than the #11 slot it holds based on domestic theatrical gross. It does not join the top three titles.

But even worse that the utter idiocy of these numbers is the idea that they are designed to promote the most damaging mindset in the film business today… and unrelenting obsession with opening weekend above all other things.

The Village grossed 2.24 times its opening this summer, the worst gross-to-opening ratio of any of the top fifteen films of the summer. The only film that was close was Van Helsing, which did 2.32 times opening. In fact, Van Helsing was the only film in the top ten that did less than 2.5 times opening, including the hideous The Day After Tomorrow.

Oy!

Have to run now, but more on this later…

6 Comments »

Reading Public Arrogance

Two deals are, now that MGM is set at Sony, the primary focus of hummers in Hollywood… Pixar and Miramax. Both are, of course, Disney related. And both have been the subject of out and out public (as telling everyone your plans “privately” tends to be) rejection by Disney in the last two weeks.

The easy assumption is that both deals have gone south for Disney and that the studio is simply being direct and truthful.

And why exactly would you do that?

Every sane person I’ve spoken to pretty much agrees that a retooled/slimmed Miramax makes sense for Disney and Miramax and that no one can do for Pixar what Disney has done for Pixar, even if their deal is exactly the same as anywhere else and doesn’t involve any givebacks… but the givebacks are even more pie sweetening.

So why in a world of deals coming to the wire does Disney wave off both deals?

My guess is not that it is an end of the line, but a hardball comma in the sentence. Chris McGurk had MGM going to WB and was offering up the deal terms to friends and others for a week before Sony stormed back to the deal with a sweetened offer that finally pushed Time-Warner away from the table.

Read across the stories and between the lines of the last month of Disney news stories and you’ll hear, “We’re consolidating our movie brand and won’t be taking big budget risks on “adult” movies, we’ve got our network working again, what’s been messy at the parks is being cleaned up and we’re over the hump that started with 9/11.”

Miramax and Pixar are additions to the core business, they are not the core business. Whoever gets the Pixar deal is looking at $50 – $75 million in profit as a distributing entity every couple of years. And while there is no real upside, the good news is that there will be virtually no downside, as Pixar will self-finance. So the profit comes with no risk, other than the studio passing on a competitive opportunity during one of the two major animation release seasons every other year. Cynicism makes it easy to scoff and say that Disney is better off releasing fewer animated movies. But that worm can turn quicker than a desperate CG housewife. That said, it would be a win-win situation for both entities.

As for Miramax, some things have always been clear… there was never going to be a renewal at $700 million a year, Disney was never going to remove the restrictions on how much The Weinsteins could spend on any one movie without Disney approval and Disney was sure to try to make the Weinstein’s profit participation deal a little less sweet while the Weinsteins would ask for more.

But even if the annual budget for both Dimension and a severely scaled down, Revolution-style Miramax was, say $400 million or $450 million or $500 million… that is still a whole lot of somebody else’s money to play with.

It is a lovely notion that The Weinsteins can run out and get a billion dollar credit line just like that and I’m sure that someone would like to have a Scott Rudin/Joel Silver combination on their lot delivering product. But there is a reason why Rudin and Silver and Grazer and Bruckheimer and the other top producers of the day are not out there going it on their own. Spending someone else’s money is a much happier place to be.

The Weinsteins’ partner in Gangs of New York and now, The Aviator, IEG, has taken pre-sale traditions to a new level with solid business foundations and are now successful producers in the big budget game. But they are not making ten films a year and seeking to distribute another ten. They may expand to five or six or seven, but at some point, the degree of control starts to loosen and risks get greater and people lose and lose big. Is this how The Weinsteins want to spend their 60s?

Moreover, do they really want to operate without being able to use Disney as a fall guy? When you are paid the kind of money The Weinsteins have been paid as, essentially, employees, the idea of bolting for new horizons is a young person’s game… and a stupid one for most. The Weinsteins have always operated best under resistance. Where will that come from if they set up their own shop?

And how many tycoons as successful as The Weinsteins have been with Miramax have set up some other business and had anywhere near the same level of success? This town is littered with geniuses of the past. Even Barry Diller, the highest level player, has never been able to make the leap that he seems to have been seeking for so long since Fox. He has made a lot of money, but his glory days are seen, fairly or not, as historic.

The only problem with the apparent Disney strategy of turning their back on their relationships so as to spice them up is that at some point you pass the point of insult and the proud folks at both Pixar and Miramax could easily be pushed too far.

And remember this… as we ran through the summer, both Disney and The Weinsteins seemed intent on closing a deal, one way or another, before the start of the Miramax fiscal year that started 13 days ago. A key to any negotiation is controlling the clock. And it seems to me that both sides – Miramax with the New York story and now Disney with this Variety story – are trying to get a firm grip before pushing to the final tape.

The official notice of non-renewal? Meaningless. For one thing, the deal was never going to be renewed under the renewal terms that were set forth originally. Second, deal terms are deal terms and no move closes the door until another deal is done, either by The Weinsteins or by Disney, in finding new leadership for the Miramax division.

I guess, in the end, all I am saying is… don’t be distracted by flashy objects or clever news leaks.

6 Comments »

Whose Sea Is It Anyway?

James Toback is mouthing off (could a certain internet columnist be making Page Six waves for fun?) about writing credit on Beyond The Sea to Page Six. Meanwhile, Kevin Spacey’s publicist returned fire, claiming his contribution to the final script, which was written long after the six versions that were created at Warner Bros, didn’t make him eligible for credit.

But both sides are blowing smoke up Page Six’s black-and-white-and-red/read-all-over ass.

1. The credits for the final script is in arbitration and Toback has the absolute right to have his script in the mix…. or not. Unless Spacey tried to force him to be credited, which is a possibility when someone is paid over a certain six figure sum (I haven’t looked at that specific figure in a while), all Toback had to do was to not submit his script to the arbitrtion committee.

2. Mr. Spacey’s rep apparently doesn’t understand that a screenplay can get credit even if there is not a single word of dialogue or even all but a few characters left from an early draft. In fact, the arbitration process leans to the earliest drafts, even if the final outcome is unrecognizable. Even though the Bobby Darin story is biographical, if Toback laid it out first, he could well end up getting credit.

But not if Toback doesn’t want it.

What’s sad for Toback is that he stands to get more press attention for this non-event than for his most recent film.

6 Comments »

Bringing Out The Vote or Cashing In?

Just wondering what others think…

Is Michael Moore on a 60 day tour to get the Democratic vote out or to earn more than $1.8 million for 180 hours work before his celebrity power wanes after the election? Or both?

20 Comments »

An Afternoon With Xan

Xan Cassevete’s documentary, Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession, is one of those rare docs that feels like it is other… in this case a documentary that does conform to the rules of storytelling, but also has a clearly personal feel, even though the filmmaker doesn’t intrude on the story.

That may sound contradictory, but when you meet Xan Cassavetes, it all seems to make sense.

She is petite, but her motor seems to be revving, even in repose. She is a beauty, but she wears little if any make-up. She doesn’t just invite you to be comfortable in her space, she demands it… in a comfortable way. Just minutes after you enter her space, she is curled up, safe, ready and waiting for intellectual stimulation, the exchange of ideas. She offers you the notion that life has challenged her spirit, but she seems so relaxed in her zone and poised to make wondrous things happen.

Cassevetes describes her early interest in Z Channel as a viewer. Between runs to the punk rock clubs of Hollywood and three month groundings for doing the same (though iron bars couldn’t slow her down), there was The Z Channel… a place where an appreciation of someone else’s artistic expression took hold, film after film, unexpected experience after unexpected experience.

The movie, which deals with the life and murderous death of the main programmer of the channel, expresses Cassevetes’ passion skillfully. She describes the five hour cut and the four hour cut and how as the movie was slowly reduced to the current cut, how the movie came back to her original vision. She tells the story. But much like Stacey Peralta’s Dogtown & Z-Boyz, she is part of the story… even if unlike Peralta, she was not a Z-girl… she was a Z-lover. And still hungry for the nurturing that this channel of films offered, she makes us hungry as well.

Hollywood is not a place that forgives beauty. Every man who has met her, when her work comes up, can’t help but to mention the allure. Yet Xan wears her it like an old sweater, comfortable, but dumped in a quick second as the room warms up. You get the feeling that her aesthetic voice is just coming into focus for her and that as she starts firing her guns, a bit more seasoned and energetic than Sofia Coppola, we will have a chance to hear and see some remarkable things.

It starts with a magnificent obsession.

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Chatting With The Sideways Guys

Alexjim_qa

Last night’s screening of Sideways was, as expected, a good time for all and a great time for many.

As Alexander and Jim told the story of how this script and then movie came together, starting with a recommendation of the book, still in galleys, by an unpaid intern, through the writing process, into the casting of actors who are known but not KNOWN, and into the editing room, you realized the magic of any great film actually coming together.

The audience held them in their seats for over an hour… baby sitters be damned!

2 Comments »

The Perfect Experiment

Reading the Time Magazine piece on the future of downloading, Netflix’s Reed Hastings comments about the industries interest in maintaining multiple platforms made me think.

I am a proponent of actually slowing the process and returning to longer release-to-DVD window in most cases. But since that is not going to happen anytime soon, I think the studios have to start considering other alternative notions.

But with millions at stake, who will try it first. It won’t work with a failed movie, as the long-ago Pirates of Penzance day-n-date PPV option as the film was being released into theaters. And there is no chance that any studio is going to try a risky maneuver on a big action film, whether Spiderman 2 or Sky Captain & The World of Tomorrow.

What struck me is that a movie like I Heart Huckabees, with big names and art house expectations, might be the perfect title to experiment with. (Too late now, but you get the point.) If you could, in the 150 markets that will have the film available on one or two screens, pay $5 to get Naomi Watts, Jude Law, Dustin Hoffman, Mark Wahlberg, Lily Tomlin and everyone else in your home while the heat of the marketing effort is happening, wouldn’t you take a flier on it? Aren’t you even more likely to spend some money on the film now rather than when it is on a very busy shelf at Blockbuster?

The other thing is that risking a $20something million movie to see what the possibilities might be seems to be the kind of investment worth making. The future of PPV may well never lead to day-n-date on the big films. But what kind of upside would be possible for, say, a Paramount Classics or Sony Classics or Miramax’s smaller titles?

Someone’s gotta kick the future of PPV off sometime…

2 Comments »

Oops

I was writing a blog entry about a NYT story on the shutdown of American Gangster at Univeral and I lost control.

2000 words later… too much for a blog entry… I put up a story on MCN.

Outside of that…. Friday numbers look pretty much as expected, though Friday Night Lights might beat its tracking by a small amount and Hillary Duff might be rebuffed a little harder than expected.

And that’s that!

11 Comments »

The Way We Were

I’ve been watching the wonderful movie-loving documentary Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession and it struck me how much things have changed in my 16 years here in Los Angeles.

The film tells the tale of this great entry into the early life of cable television, The Z Channel, which delivered so many great movies to the Los Angeles public before Cinemax and The Movie Channel were created to try to compete on a big corporate level. Of course, both of those channels eventually devolved into more of the same, perhaps with a bit more sex than their parent channels, HBO and Showtime.

I know many of the people who were part of the story and who are now in this doc. They were younger/thinner/hairier back then, but so was I. But what struck me personally was how flexible the world was back then. Clearly, the playing field for movies and cable has changed significantly. But has the “anything is possible” attitude of The Z Channel, as well as Henri Langlois, about whose Cinémathèque Française there was a documentary at Toronto, really changed or have I and my friend and colleagues who lived through those events just gotten older and less anxious to fight the fights that make those magical landmarks come to pass?

God knows, Movie City News has been, for me, my partner Laura and the writers involved as much about love for the cinema as anything else and we have been blessed with some success for our efforts. But I remember those days in Los Angeles when AFM was booming and Joel Silver was just getting started as a producer and Disney was just getting relaunched and Fox was just getting started as a TV network and $100 million domestic was a shitload of money. And things seemed simpler. Or maybe they were just simpler for me.

The punchline to all of this is that we really need to see a Z Channel happen again. IFC and Sundance both went right past the model and narrowcast themselves into something good, but something different. There simply is no channel with the consciousness that Z Channel had… where you knew just by tuning in that you were going to be compelled, if not impressed… that the world of movies had good and bad, and events that were about loving movies and not hype. You watch this documentary and you realize that so many of the films that Z Channel brought to TV for the first time are now never seen on TV anymore. Really… when was the last time you saw a Laura Antonelli movie… or a Sonia Braga movie… or a Costas Gravas movie… or early Dutch Verhoeven… or the four hour 15 minutes version of Heaven’s Gate… or a silent film… etc, etc, etc.?

The process of acquiring rights would surely be more complicated than ever. But how much can a screening of Hail The Conquering Hero or La Comunidad or Day For Night really be? And why can’t that business model work for someone… even if it is a local effort, expanding slowly if at all, major city by major city?

If the effort was sincere, the opportunity to have Tarantino Tuesdays and Friday Night In France and The Monday Musical seems obvious. You know, MTV used to show music videos. The ‘outgrew” music because there is more money in other programming. But wouldn’t it be cool to see a music video now and again? And wouldn’t it be great to have a quality film festival on your TV 24 hours a day, 7 days a week?

Hmmmm….

Rethink Of Yesterday's News…

Columbia will, after all, run Portman & Owen in Supporting categories while Roberts & Law will run in lead for Closer.

This should force Fox Searchlight to run Portman in the lead category in Garden State.

Oscar Category Crashes

There is one big story about start turning up this Oscar season… more than in a long while, the decisions of actors and their representatives about what categories they will run in are going to make things very interesting.

Word is that Columbia’s Closer is going to run all four actors in the lead category, making a near-lock for Clive Owen into a question mark. We Don’t Live Here Anymore‘s Mark Ruffalo would have a real shot at a Supporting Nomination this year, but is insisting on running lead. And Jim Carrey, who plays four roles in Lemony Snicket, will probably run against himself in lead, while he would be a sure bet as a supporting actor. Add to those chocies, Kevin Costner and Anthony Hopkins moving out of the category along with their movies’ release dates, there is suddenly a void in the Supporting Actor category.

Perhaps that is one reason why Clint Eastwood is pushing Million Dollar Baby into release, an opportunity for Morgan Freeman as well as Hilary Swank.

But even so, suddenly we are looking at Rodrigo de la Serna, Thomas Hayden Church, Morgan Freeman and… who else? Liev Schrieber? Mark Wahlberg? Patrick Wilson in Phantom of the Opera? Dustin Hoffman in Meet The Fockers? Bill Sadler in Kinsey?

Suddenly, Supporting Actor is as wide open as Actress and Supporting Actress.

9 Comments »

Team America Gets Its "R"

Talk about making a log out of a splinter!

24 Comments »

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“I remember very much the iconography and the images and the statues in church were very emotional for me. Just the power of that, and even still — just seeing prayer card, what that image can evoke. I have a lot of friends that are involved in the esoteric, and I know some girls in New York that are also into the supernatural. I don’t feel that I have that gift. But I am leaning towards mysticism… Maybe men are more practical, maybe they don’t give into that as much… And then also, they don’t convene in the same way that women do. But I don’t know, I am not a man, I don’t want to speak for men. For me, I tend to gravitate towards people who are open to those kinds of things. And the idea for my film, White Echo, I guess stemmed from that — I find that the girls in New York are more credible. What is it about the way that they communicate their ideas with the supernatural that I find more credible? And that is where it began. All the characters are also based on friends of mine. I worked with Refinery29 on that film, and found that they really invest in you which is so rare in this industry.”
Chloë Sevigny

“The word I have fallen in love with lately is ‘Hellenic.’ Greek in its mythology. So while everyone is skewing towards the YouTube generation, here we are making two-and-a-half-hour movies and trying to buck the system. It’s become clear to me that we are never going to be a perfect fit with Hollywood; we will always be the renegade Texans running around trying to stir the pot. Really it’s not provocation for the sake of being provocative, but trying to make something that people fall in love with and has staying power. I think people are going to remember Dragged Across Concrete and these other movies decades from now. I do not believe that they will remember some of the stuff that big Hollywood has put out in the last couple of years. You’ve got to look at the independent space to find the movies that have been really special recently. Even though I don’t share the same world-view as some of my colleagues, I certainly respect the hell out of their movies which are way more fascinating than the stuff coming out of the studio system.”
~ Dallas Sonnier