The Hot Blog Archive for March, 2009

Why MPAA Blinked On Reporting Costs

I am fascinated that Dan Glickman, in giving his annual State of The Union report to reporters and then exhibitors at ShoWest, did NOT give a number for costs of production and marketing.
His excuse – which is not unreasonable on its face – was that there are so many co-production deals now that these numbers were inherently incorrect. But this was true last year and the year before as well.
What’s the truth?
Fewer of the highest production cost films were made last year. The middle class of productions were about the same. And the biggest dip in the number of films released by studios last year were in the Dependent sector… the cheapest group. As a result, even with some improvement on the big overspending, the average for the industry would have to be significantly higher for the loss of the low end.
Between WIP, Searchlight, Focus, and Rogue, there were 7 fewer films, plus New Line/Picturehouse had 13 fewer releases and MGM has 7 fewer releases. That’s the entire drop of 27 films released by studios from 2007 to 2008. Miramax released 8 films both years.
Sony Classics and Paramount Classics added 2 films to the 2008 list of releases from 2007.
WB actually cut its release slate by 8 films… though it released 6 New Line films, so the studio’s reduction ended up being, on paper, only 2 films.
Paramount had 2 fewer releases. Sony had 5 fewer releases. Fox had 4 more releases. Disney had 13 releases both years. Universal had 18 releases both years.
Somehow, I seem to be missing a reduction of 3 films somewhere… what would be really interesting would be if MPAA wasn’t counting the two Marvel movies and LucasFilm’s animated release, both of which were self-funded by the producers. But I don’t know if that is the case.
Anyway… you get my drift…
These numbers have been artificially low for many, many years. The real number for the average cost of a major studio release, both in production and in P&A, have seemed to be at least 50% lower than reality for as long as I can remember.
And Glickman/MPAA biting the bullet this year makes sense, because it is going to be even weirder next year, when you see another drop in the number of titles released by the majors

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Wiseman @AFI Dallas

One doesn’t expect “Domestic Violence, Pt 1″ to be so refreshing. But Frederick Wiseman’s 2001 six and a half hour document of a shelter in Tampa, FL is so square that it’s spectacularly hip in this era of the Look At Me doc. No narration, no music, no director’s statement of position, no structured timeline… just slices of reality, bursts really… the most vivid and simple and human emotions coming at you in wave after wave.
Wow. Radical!

Banning David Poland

Traveling and finding myself responding to blog flames more than once, I pondered how to proceed. I really enjoy engaging in discussions, especially when people have differing opinions. But far too often, it has become a discussion that digresses into personal attacks. And who needs that?
Then an idea struck me… ban myself from Hot Blog comments.
And so begins the experiment…
For the next month, those of you who comment are on your own. I’m not going to be joining you – though I will read you – in the ongoing conversation. I will write what I want to write. And then, the floor is yours.
Perhaps I will do a weekly entry answering specific questions that have come up… or something like that. I’m not sure. Like I said… it is an experiment.
If things get out of hand, I will be lurking around and will suspend commenters if I feel it is necessary… which I hope it will not be, given that the first time I ever suspended anyone was just a couple of months ago… and if I do feel forced to do any of that, I won’t be blogging about that either.
Anyway… thanks for adding your two cents. See you in comments in a month.

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What Is Niche?: 2009 Edition

The spark started in yesterday’s box office conversation, based on the notion that the worst five performances against openings of more than $50m were “niche” films… this based on what seems to be the fact that Watchmen will be the worst multiple (under 2.13x) in history vs opening weekend ($55.2m open… under $117.6 total).
One of the five was Spider-Man 3, which as I quickly pointed out when called on it, was an anomaly. And it, obviously, is.
And so the discussion – occasionally interrupted by insanity – was about what “niche” means now… would it include Indiana Jones, etc.
So here is my take… and as always, you are welcome to offer yours (hopefully, without the insanity):
Niche is when you can see that one portion of the audience clearly overwhelms all of the others… even when you hope that it will expand past that group. The idea of the “quadrant” has been around forever, but has really lost its meaning, as it is not nearly specific enough in the recent market. The “niche” is a section of a quadrant. It doesn’t have to be defined by age or sex, but when you look at each niche, they usually are one sex or the other, one age group that bulges outside of historic ideas, etc.
So… when Iron Man does expand past that niche, great for them. When The Incredible Hulk does not, it should not really be a surprise.
Historically, movies were made for a price that made films that cracked their niche to be hugely profitable. This is what has changed so dramatically. Because of the mega-success of some niche product, studios have chased those niches as though they were 3 or 4 quadrant draws.
The result of this is, in part, that a film that doesn

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The Day The Movies Died

Wow… that’s called burying the lead!
Dawn C. Chmielewski at the LA Times did a story today that is, perhaps, the most important story to the film industry in the last two years. Stop obsessing on frickin’ 3D and the overhyped box office boom and take a look at this.
Let me step backwards for a second to let you know why I see this as a huge landmark (which I am embarrassed to say I didn’t know about for 6 years and 12,900 kiosks that this company has been in operation).
The economics of a movie are;
Theatrical = the most dollars per pair of eyeballs
DVD sales = a stable price per sale, with unknown # of eyeballs per sale
DVD rental = a stable price per sale with maximized numbers of eyeballs per sale, but in some cases, revenues returned to studios on a formula that approximates a per-rental basis.
Pay-Per-View = a strong number for each sale, but very, very limited number of buyers
Internet Free Stream = no revenue except for savings from unions & ad sales
Internet Paid Stream/download = smaller than PPV revenue per unit and even more limited sales
Other Ancillaries = getting smaller every year
What percentage of the pie each area has made up has changed year to year. There was a period during which DVD sales were significantly higher than theatrical revenues… and then added more dollars from the rentals. But as DVD sales have dropped for theatrical movies – and please, keep in mind that this is not this year

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BYOB – Dallas

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Friday Estimates by Klady – 3/29

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Monsters vs Aliens is about a third off of the top non-summer/non-holiday animation opening day of all time (Ice Age: The Meltdown), which was on the same relative release date in 2006. The 3-day on that film turned out to be $68 million… a third off would make $46 million or so.
But his is based on Klady’s estimates of Friday, not what studios are telling people. One guesser has the day at $16m… two others at $16.7m. Len is all the way down at $14.6m.
Even the $16.7m has the opening off 23% of Ice Age 3, leading to a reasonable $52.4 estimate for MvA… so the game still may be about other studios trying to make this opening look less successful than it is come Sunday night. But if the final looks more like $49 million and it gets spun as a disappointment of some kind, you will know that it was bull before it was spun the last time. And if it really does get up past $55 million, you will know that it is actually an unusual success based against its Friday number.
Lionsgate improved on its My Bloody Valentine 3D opening with the 2D opening of The Haunting in Connecticut . Not exactly Saw V, but damned good – Screen Gems good – for junky (on the face of it… haven’t seen the film) horror with no names.
12 Rounds will be a pricey dump for Fox. $3 million weekends on 2331 screens hurt.
Race To Witch Mountain got slapped hard by MvA… but they must have seen that coming.
And Watchmen, just crossing the $100 million mark this week, is now looking at an eventual $106 million domestic total. Anything less than $117.6 million will make the film a piece of film history as the single worst performance by a movie opening at $50 million or higher, replacing Hulk and the rest of the current Bottom 5, Spider-Man 3, The Village, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, and 8 Mile.

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LA Press Club's 2nd Annual National Entertainment Journalism Awards

I just got a note than Shawn Edwards and have Russ Simmons won Best TV Film Critic, the second year in the row the the pair have been honored as Best TV Film Critics.
This is the only winner I know of, as the awards winners, given out last night, have not been announced anywhere I can find on the web, including the LAPC website.
In any case, this win made me curious about who was in the running…
THE FINALISTS… As Reported by The LA Press Club on March 8, 2009
A1. NEWS STORY, PRINT
* Alexis Chiu, People Magazine
* Dan Halpern, Playboy
* John Horn, Los Angeles Times
* Oliver Jones, Alexis Chiu, Johnny Dodd, Jennifer Garcia and Brenda Rodriguez, People Magazine
* John Lafayette, Greg Baumann and Tom Gilbert, TelevisionWeek
A2. NEWS STORY, TELEVISION
* Robert Kovacik, Jeffreu Scharping and KhallidShabazz, KNBC-TV
* George Pennacchio, KABC-TV
* George Pennacchio, KABC-TV
A3. NEWS STORY, RADIO
* Claude Brodesser-Akner and Matt Holzman, KCRW
* Rachel Dornhelm, NPR

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BYOB – Thursday The 26th

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The Gossip Wars: Episode 32609

So now… Sharon Waxman does another piece about Nikki Finke that is both overly generous and not generous enough. Nikki responds with vague splatter.
As I explained before, none of the “reporting” bureaus actually know anyone’s real traffic. They are based on surveys of a very limited number of people. Sharon’s holy grail that she is using in this analysis is Quantcast, whose numbers must be suspect based exclusively on the information offered by the site. For instance, Variety’s traffic peaks in late December… not. They estimate that 605,709 people visit Variety each month… and that they generate only 750,190 visits. Uh, no again.
Of course, I can tell you that regarding MCN, the numbers are off. But more odd, the website that has the second highest affinity with MCN, after Variety, is something called “canhegetit” which seems to be a gay site with porn bent. What that suggests to me is that someone who comes to MCN a lot and who is on their survey list, also likes gay porn. But I don’t think this is a clear definition of our primary readership or which sites they most frequent. In addition… they claim we have 41,966 monthly readers… but 0 visits per month. Oy.
What amuses me, however, is that Nikki (and others) has forever been screaming about the Alexa ratings as regards this site… and I have been explaining forever that Alexa’s rankings come from Google toolbars and MCN’s heavily industry readership clearly does not rock many Alexa toolbars. Didn’t faze her. And then Sharon throws Quantcast’s b.s. at her and the world has come to an end. Love that.
(I shouldn’t be surprised… I used to get nasty e-mail from Nikki on a regular basis complaining about my temerity in commenting on other journalist’s work… something she’d never do. Until, of course, it was in her interest. I still do it for the same reasons I always have: 1) because if we dish it out, we should be able to take it (when it’s actually about the work), and 2) in the hope of unearthing more accuracy.)
As for Nikki, I broke down what her traffic really looks like earlier this week. Its not rocket science. And the notion that Charlie Koones was willing to drop $500,000 on buying Nikki’s site is a hoot. But to answer the question that Sharon has posed to her by someone at Variety, no, hiring another reporter instead of buying Nikki would not make a lot of sense for Variety. Nikki gets more attention than any one reporter or critic, however disgusting the attention. At the same time, thinking that Nikki could be monetized by Variety is also absurd.
But Sharon… really… learn what facts are facts and which ones are guesses. Throwing around web ratings and getting sucking into the “uniques” vs page views thing (or worse… not even considering it) is extremely weak tea. Think about the notion of Variety actually having 600,000 readers, instead of 60,000 in any given month, which is probably around the realistic number of actual people. Same with Nikki’s alleged 200,000 readers… most of who come up on Quantcast and Alexa and others via Drudge, not via regular readership.
Of course, it is in Sharon’s interest to believe in these tracking services because Quantcast is already claiming that The Wrap has over 100,000 readers… which is obviously inaccurate. Meanwhile, Alexa has traffic for The Wrap behind not only MCN, but behind The Hot Blog as a standalone, while Quantcast doesn’t have enough data to analyze The Hot Blog, but has MCN with less than half the readers of The Wrap.
It’s all a messy, blurry joke, folks. One that is probably costing me money. But still… the numbers are a jumbled mess that have people self-selecting which services they choose to believe because of which ones make them look better. I choose “none.” But I certainly would never hold any site up or down based on these random and often inaccurate surveys.
Finally, Nikki showed her truest colors in a post yesterday…
NBC Security Freaks Over Research Leak, in which she gloats about the effort to secure test screening research from the press, and in this particular case, Nikki, who ran it in full with the intent to harm and no insight whatsoever.
Do you get it, writers? She is not your friend. If her ego is fed by chasing Ben Silverman around – always via whatever source has been after him from the start of his tenure and has fed Nikki every single piece – then the writers of Parks & Recreation be damned. Nor does she care about the actors in the show… or the many other union employees of NBC, etc, etc, etc. And caring about journalism… HA! Nikki cares about Nikki. Nikki cares about being respected… even more so when she least deserves it. Nikki fears being found out to be the con artist that she has always been – which is why she has never been able to hold a job in her long career – and fear is her only tool.
It’s not funny, people. It’s not just about embarrassing the bosses, who are such easy targets. This person is the embodiment of everything she claims to be against… except for one small element… she’s ever done anything of value in her entire career… not one insight that has ever meant anything… not one contribution that has actually improved anyone’s lot in life beyond the momentary thrill of shaking your fist at the giants.
I am going to keep beating this drum because it’s what I do… and because, in the end, however boring, it’s really important. It takes a village to raise our standards. Let’s not be too lazy to do so.

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Rachael Leigh Cook… Take Two?

The 2001 run of Anti-Trust, Blow Dry, Josie & The Pussycats, and Texas Rangers kind of ended the sense of inevitability that many had pegged this young actress with when she was a darling of the indie circuit. The run went from from The House of Yes in 1997 (at 18 years old) until She’s All That and an arc on Dawson’s Creek killed her street cred at 20.
I don’t know this woman. I don’t know what she wanted. I don’t know how she saw her work or how she behaved on sets or in meetings. All I do know is that it kinda ended with that studio run in 2001.
So when I put an indie from Anchor Bay called Bob Funk, due for a brief theatrical release before DVD, into the DVD player… and her name, not a male name, was on top… I wondered what that was all about. And indeed, she is not the star of the film, but with Amy Ryan in a small role, she was the closest thing to a commodity they had.
And then I wondered… when is she going to turn up in the movie? And then I realized… she had. She’s blond (obviously a pliable condition), but more so, she is no longer a waif. She is a woman (30 in October) and she now has the curves of a woman. He face has filled out into a somewhat less pixie-ish shape, but she is still quite beautiful (if not terribly well photographed in this film). And she has a personality! One could see this there in Josie & The Pussycats, but that, it seems, is not what people wanted to hire her to do in films.
She really struck me – and the movie is indie okay… really a highlight reel for the star and the writer/director… feels like a stage play full of hard talk converted on a whim – as someone ready for the next round of their career to begin. It is very easy, now, to imagine her carrying a sitcom, taking a strong role on a good hour-long, or even crafting a career as a chick flick star. She is beautiful, but accessible… she is funny, but not showy… she seems daring, but not precious… really interesting.
It is easy to imagine her going into meetings and the execs or producers being surprised by who walked into their office. She doesn’t read as that girl we once saw in those movies. But if they can get over their youthful excitement about who she was, I think there is a real chance that she could have a better career as who she might be. Really interesting…
(CORRECTIONS Thurs, 12:55p – Apparently, Magnolia is distributing the film, Bob Funk, and Anchor Bay has another film I watched very late last night, The Education of Charlie Banks (with shockingly solid directorial work by Fred Durst) with their name is all over the screener. And Ms. Cook’s name was short an “a,” which I have now corrected.)

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Bat-Pricing

Interesting spin on pricing on the new Batman Anthology, which is the post-TV/pre-Nolan Batman features… now in Blu-Ray.
For one thing, only Batman itself is available as a standalone DVD so far. But more interesting is that WB is offering the package at $79.96 (down from list price of $99.95) on its WBshop.com site. And Amazon, which usually has as low a price as anyone, is at $88.99, down from what they say is $129.95 list.
This is the first time that I have seen Blu-ray prices on the WB site that are cheaper than Amazon… which suggests, again, a real effort to make the studio home sales page the site you want to buy from.

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Snippets From Around The Globe

One of the pleasures of traveling is reading the actual newspapers.
There was this remarkable image of the fence against Mexico in the NY Times today…
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And there was this kind of wonderful odd obit page report from The Times of London… though it had this poorly reproduced, but much more dramatic picture with it in the actual paper.
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A service of thanksgiving

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And Just Outside Your Window

Literally outside my window as I woke up this morning in Bermuda…
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And in front of the City Hall here… by way of Harvard…
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The Hot Blog

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This is probably going to sound petty, but Martin Scorsese insisting that critics see his film in theaters even though it’s going straight to Netflix and then not screening it in most American cities was a watershed moment for me in this theatrical versus streaming debate.

I completely respect when a filmmaker insists that their movie is meant to be seen in the theater, but the thing is, you got to actually make it possible to see it in the theater. Some movies may be too small for that, and that’s totally OK.

When your movie is largely financed by a streaming service and is going to appear on that streaming service instantly, I don’t really see the point of pretending that it’s a theatrical film. It just seems like we are needlessly indulging some kind of personal fantasy.

I don’t think that making a feature film length production that is going to go straight to a video platform is some sort of “step down.“ I really don’t. Theatrical exhibition as we know it is dying off anyway, for a variety of reasons.

I should clarify myself because this thread is already being misconstrued — I’m talking about how the movie is screened in advance. If it’s going straight to Netflix, why the ritual of demanding people see it in the theater?

There used to be a category that everyone recognized called “TV movie” or “made for television movie” and even though a lot of filmmakers considered that déclassé, it seems to me that probably 90% of feature films fit that description now.

Atlantis has mostly sunk into the ocean, only a few tower spires remain above the waterline, and I’m increasingly at peace with that, because it seems to be what the industry and much of the audience wants. We live in an age of convenience and information control.

Only a very elite group of filmmakers is still allowed to make movies “for theaters“ and actually have them seen and judged that way on a wide scale. Even platform releasing seems to be somewhat endangered. It can’t be fought. It has to be accepted.

9. Addendum: I’ve been informed that it wasn’t Scorsese who requested that the Bob Dylan documentary only be screened for critics in theaters, but a Netflix representative indicated the opposite to me, so I just don’t know what to believe.

It’s actually OK if your film is not eligible for an Oscar — we have a thing called the Emmys. A lot of this anxiety is just a holdover from the days when television was considered culturally inferior to theatrical feature films. Everybody needs to just get over it.

In another 10 to 20 years they’re probably going to merge the Emmys in the Oscars into one program anyway, maybe they’ll call it the Contentys.

“One of the fun things about seeing the new Quentin Tarantino film three months early in Cannes (did I mention this?) is that I know exactly why it’s going to make some people furious, and thus I have time to steel myself for the takes.

Back in July 2017, when it was revealed that Tarantino’s next project was connected to the Manson Family murders, it was condemned in some quarters as an insulting and exploitative stunt. We usually require at least a fig-leaf of compassion for the victims in true-crime adaptations, and even Tarantino partisans like myself – I don’t think he’s made a bad film yet – found ourselves wondering how he might square his more outré stylistic impulses with the depiction of a real mass murder in which five people and one unborn child lost their lives.

After all, it’s one thing to slice off with gusto a fictional policeman’s ear; it’s quite another to linger over the gory details of a massacre that took place within living memory, and which still carries a dread historical significance.

In her essay The White Album, Joan Didion wrote: “Many people I know in Los Angeles believe that the Sixties ended abruptly on August 9, 1969, ended at the exact moment when word of the murders on Cielo Drive traveled like brushfire through the community, and in a sense this is true.”

Early in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, as Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt’s characters drive up the hill towards Leo’s bachelor pad, the camera cranes up gently to reveal a street sign: Cielo Drive. Tarantino understands how charged that name is; he can hear the Molotov cocktails clinking as he shoulders the crate.

As you may have read in the reviews from Cannes, much of the film is taken up with following DiCaprio and Pitt’s characters – a fading TV actor and his long-serving stunt double – as they amusingly go about their lives in Los Angeles, while Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate is a relatively minor presence. But the spectre of the murders is just over the horizon, and when the night of the 9th finally arrives, you feel the mood in the cinema shift.

No spoilers whatsoever about what transpires on screen. But in the audience, as it became clear how Tarantino was going to handle this extraordinarily loaded moment, the room soured and split, like a pan of cream left too long on the hob. I craned in, amazed, but felt the person beside me recoil in either dismay or disgust.

Two weeks on, I’m convinced that the scene is the boldest and most graphically violent of Tarantino’s career – I had to shield my eyes at one point, found myself involuntarily groaning “oh no” at another – and a dead cert for the most controversial. People will be outraged by it, and with good reason. But in a strange and brilliant way, it takes Didion’s death-of-the-Sixties observation and pushes it through a hellfire-hot catharsis.

Hollywood summoned up this horror, the film seems to be saying, and now it’s Hollywood’s turn to exorcise it. I can’t wait until the release in August, when we can finally talk about why.

~ Robbie Collin