Night Moves

The Hot Blog Archive for March, 2011

Taking Sides

It struck me as I thought about the disregard for exhibitors shown by the major distributors this week in their announcement on VOD that it really isn’t personal.

Forget it just being exhibitors and consider the unions as well.

The studios and the corporations that own them think of every piece of the puzzle, human or not, as being something that should be adjusted to serve their every interest and whim. Actors, writers, and directors have a job to do, but the remuneration, unless the individual is powerful enough to demand and receive more, should, in the eyes of these companies, serve their bottom line. There are only two common denominators; ego and money. And money usually wins over ego.

What’s hard, for those of us who believe in fairness and shared responsibility, is that the corporations aren’t really wrong… they are just doing what corporations do. AMPTP couldn’t run roughshod over the talent unions, as they did in the last serious round of contracts, without the unions/guilds submitting (consciously or otherwise). The only leverage the employees really have is themselves and their work… but even with one guild striking, they couldn’t hold it together long enough to get significantly improved contracts. And now, SAG is already a shadow of its former self.

Exhibitors have long seemed to have an inferiority complex, like Canadians often have about America. Inferiority is not an objective truth. These are symbiotic relationships. But roles are quickly set and the distributors’ superiority complex is profound, almost made worse by the awareness that they really do need the theater owners. That’s a step less control than is optimal. This makes ideas like shortened theatrical windows more attractive, even if they don’t make financial sense… because ego makes them think that more control will eventually lead to more money. How many times has that been wrong? (We can start the conversation with the DVD Bubble and the failure to manage it.)

The exhibitors get fawned over in public by the distributors and then, after the doors close, they are treated as though they were just another obstacle to overcome. The movie theater industry in America was really rebuilt in the late 90s, by way of a load of bankruptcies, and allowed for a reconsideration of how films could be distributed. Without that partnership with the exhibitors, we wouldn’t have the massive openings we now have, which in turn, have led to the studios thinking that they can short the theatrical runs and get to the post-theatrical in 6 weeks or less, where the split is more lucrative to them.

But I can’t say that the studios/distributors are The Bad Guys. There is no morality to business, good or bad. There are some people with strong moral ideas and some of them are even enormously successful business people. But the standard for decision making, beyond those exceptions, is not a secret. Maximize in any way that doesn’t, ultimately, minimize due to the force of the maximizing action. Morality is a math problem.

The distributors are dead wrong, in my opinion, about this idea… on a business level before we even discuss the art of cinema. But are they evil? No, not really. Even though WB and Universal are both owned by parents with cable businesses and Fox is owned by a parent with an international satellite business, and Sony sees a big piece of its future as a content conduit via the internet by way of their hardware platforms… they are just trying to maximize their businesses.

This, of course, makes it all harder to respond to naked aggression. Villains make it easier to get the troops excited. Exhibitors can’t actually KNOW that shortened windows will undermine their businesses. It’s just a well-educated guess. While nothing has buried theatrical, every major innovation that makes filmed entertainment more accessible away from theaters has done incremental damage.

And ironically, while Jim Cameron and George Lucas and Jeffrey Katzenberg talk about improving the movie experience with new technology, they are unwittingly playing right into the hands of the studios that want more events and fewer movies. The theory, according to the trio, is that even conventional dramas will be improved by 3D and other improving technologies. But what I hear is the chance for those who want to turn theatrical into an event medium.

For theater owners to be able to change this equation, they will have to be willing to lose some money. Some serious money. Soon. Essentially, it is like a strike situation. Both sides have something to lose… and the repercussions will last longer than the moment.

The Distributors keeps getting to have its cake and eat it too. And as much as I hope it’s not true, I expect it to go that way on this as well. Distributors will give up some short term battles to win the war. The ball may not roll all the way down hill. But we will probably have to wait to for economic forces to change the playing field… which is usually too late.

So whose side do you take? The Good Guys who don’t stick to their guns or The Bad Guys who do? It isn’t as easy a question as it probably should be.

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Hangover II: The Motion Trailer

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Film Delivevolution 33111: March 30… A Day That Will Live In Infamy… On Demand

Let’s start with the backstabbing part…

After NATO agreed to keep the discussion of VOD behind closed doors at CinemaCon (nee’ ShoWest) this week, welcoming new MPAA chief Christopher Dodd, 4 of MPAA’s 6 active members announced that they would be launching Premium VOD via DirecTV and a few other outlets… in April.

Dodd, who seemed sincere, made a great noise about movie theaters being the best way to see a movie… and just 24 hours later, turned out to be playing games as front man for the studios. And as problematic as short-window VOD is, it is more problematic that The Studios so aggressively misled their partners in exhibition.

I asked Dodd specifically about whether he would counsel his MPAA member studios to wait until they has consensus about VOD before proceeding with any plan. He avoided the answer and John Fithian, citing respect and a handshake agreement, did as well. But the answer was, they had already reached consensus… and pretty much signed a deal with DirecTV to actualize it. I guess this is the studios’ Libya. It’s just to sensitive a topic to be honest about. (No wonder NATO is pissed.)

Interesting, the most aggressive proponent of shortening windows, Disney, is not (currently) participating in this experiment. It may or may not be coincidence, but Disney also had the greatest presence at the event this week. (They may also still be under agreements that were signed last year regarding Alice in Wonderland.)

Also staying out of this mess is Paramount. Their public excuse is concern about piracy. More likely, the boss, Sumner Redstone, is not anxious to be a pariah amongst his brethren in the exhibition world, where he came from with National Amusements. Redstone also failed to turn up for a gathering of all the former presidents and CEOs of NATO… could it be that he didn’t want to have to lie to his colleagues about what was about to go down?

Here’s another theory about why Paramount and Disney are not leaping right now… Thor, Pirates 4, and Kung Fu Panda 2. Paramount is in position to have its best year ever… perhaps getting into a fight with the movie theaters is just a dumb idea when you feel so good about what is about to happen?

That leaves Universal’s Bridesmaids and WB’s The Hangover 2 as potential May targets for exhibitors. WB, Universal and Fox are also in harms way in April with Arthur, Your Highness, Rio, Water For Elephants, and Fast Five.

When will the other shoe drop, as per the exhibitors’ response to this? Will they target smaller films or wait until summer, when they could do some real damage?

But back to the event of this itself…

It seems to be overstating to suggest that this is already sure to be The Future. A bit on the scummy side, the four studios involved cleverly slotted this historic event to titles that have already been played out theatrically. So unlike Disney, which dealt with the response to their plan for Alice directly, taking the chance of being vulnerable to an exhibitor revolt, Sony, Fox, Universal, and WB are launching this experiment with movies that the exhibitors have already played out, already in their 7th or 8th weeks of release. (Universal hasn’t announced a title for the launch.. The Dilemma will be at about 75 days at the launch and The Adjustment Bureau around 50 days… and I don’t think they have the rights to sell streaming for Relativity movies.)

The first movies scheduled are Just Go With It (Sony), Cedar Rapids (Fox Searchlight) and Unknown (WB). Fox told The Hollywood Reporter that Searchlight movies would go to VOD 60 days after the went wide… but Cedar Rapids has never gone as wide as 500 screens. I would joke that Sony has a hard enough time getting anyone to see Adam Sandler movies after 3 weeks, but this is actually one of his leggier films. And Unknown has already dropped to under 700 screens.

Where are Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son and Hall Pass in the plan?

Next up, if things move forward, would be The Adjustment Bureau (U), Battle: Los Angeles (Sony), Red Riding Hood (WB), Paul (U), and Win Win (Fox Searchlight). That would take the experiment all the way into May. The April movies wouldn’t launch until June.

My take is that NATO should take a mid-range position on all of this, reserving their rights to change things up at will. Simple rule for now… if a title is participating in this 60-day VOD window, exhibitors will book for no more than 30 days and only on 1 or 2 screens of any multiplex booking the film. Period.

Show some muscle. Studios want short windows? Give them short windows… and no option for extension. They want to front-load releases in order to get to the next window faster? Give them theaters to play in, but don’t conspire with them to make over 30 million seats available on opening weekend as a matter of course. See how big these same films open with “just” 10 million available seats on opening weekend. See the value of Weekend 5 multiply instantly… but don’t play any of these movies that week. After all, it will be on Comcast, Time-Warner Cable, and DirecTV soon enough.

(Note: Why did DirecTV get the first deal and not MPAA members Comcast and Time-Warner? Could it be…. The Justice Department? “You know, it’s not about us solidifying our cable businesses… seriously… we let that other company do it before we did… it’s not an oligopoly… really!”)

There is possible good news coming out of this… the failure of $30 VOD. It may not take any external effort at all to get this result. However, once the door opens, so does the process of studios juggling pricing to get to the end they seek. There is one thing that powerful men hate most… being proven wrong. Failure is not likely enough to kill this bad idea off. There will be excuses about how the movies just weren’t good enough… how education about the service couldn’t be developed quickly enough, etc.

But within a few months, with some pressure from the exhibitors that is felt at the box office, the talent involved with the films could start to push back. The last summer Harry Potter film was grossing almost $1 million a weekend when it would, in this plan, go to premium VOD. Will exhibitors allow WB to squeeze all but the last couple of million out of their theatrical and then go right to Premium VOD? It’s a major issue. The last summer Potter took in over half its box office by the end of the first weekend. Four weeks isn’t that much of a financial threat. But keep it to 6000 actual screens? This would probably cut opening weekend by 20% or more and slow down the revenue stream. (Actual screen count for Potter’s opening weekend would likely be north of 13,000 screens)

No one can argue that wide-release movies are not playing out in 6 weeks. These distributors want to go to the next window right then. What they don’t seem concerned about is whether a 6 week window will damage those 6 weeks in theaters. In all but about a dozen or so movies a year, the logical answer seems to be, “Yes… there will be real damage.” But if it’s 10% or less, bean counters figure they can replace that revenue with a new window. What they don’t seem to get is that this is a conceptual issue for audiences, not something logical that can be rationalized down to the week. Even people who will never pay $30 or even $20 for VOD will thing of theatrical openings differently because it is available with such a short window. They are disincentivizing an audience that is already very expensive to herd for theatrical. Every movie is not a must-see water cooler event.

in any case, I look forward to Fox releasing the VOD of X:Men: First Class against the theatrical of Rise of the Apes.

I can’t wait to see The Hangover 2 hit 60 day VOD opposite WB’s launch of Steve Carrell comedy Crazy, Stupid, Love.

(ADD, 2:40p – Some are reporting that participating studios are now saying they will keep big grossers off this schedule. Well, speaking for NATO, fuck that! This is the most insulting notion of all… that the distributors can undercut theaters when they feel like it, but what works for their smaller films is not good enough for their big hits. Truth is, this makes no sense anyway, as the biggest hits – with rare exceptions – are more front loaded than the mid-range grossers. It’s the big films that stand to have the best shot of getting premium prices at home. But I don’t think that there are real answers yet. As I wrote… we are still looking at an experiment with no evidence to suggest it will work well. And history tells us that when distributors conspire to shorten effective windows, they get shorter. And they keep getting shorter every year.)

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CinemaCon II

Day 2 (Day 3 for internationals) is a little slower paced. More chatting, fewer events. The trade show floor opened early today (popcorn! hot dogs! projectors! seats! free bags!) and there were seminars on a variety of subjects.

You can feel the ebb and flow of the studios that were here yesterday and the ones with presentations tomorrow.

Today, there is a luncheon sponsored by RealD and Barco, two of the technology companies. (Need I remind you, Barco has really brought projectors! Brightest in the WORLD!!!) The event is Lucas, Cameron, and Katzenberg talking about digital cinema and what they see as the future.

It’s nice to see old friends, though “old” is feeling more and more of a personal descriptive.

Coming up next…

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CinemaShowConWest

It’s been years since I have gotten my ShoWest on. It was once my favorite annual movie biz event.  But it was sold, it was less fun, and I stopped showing up. 

This year, ownership is back with the theater owners and it’s called CinemaCon. My primary attraction was a chance to sit with John Fithian and new MPAA mastter, Sen Chris Dodd, to see what we might expect from him.

First impression is that he will be more of a showman than Dan Glickman, but not looking to be Valenti 2 either. He’s not going to be Mr CARA.  His #1 target was piracy (futile, aside from international trade agreements).  #2 was the euphemistically phrased, “expansion of opportunities for access.” 

But there would be mud wrestling between exhbition and the studios here. Essentially, they seemed to agree to keep it all smiles and explanations for a weak Q1… as expected, really. 

I liked Dodd. He was quick with a smile and a pat on the back, both using the Bullshit Thesaurus with skill and actually saying, mostly by inference, some real things. At least, enough so that with more than 9 days in the gig, I have hope he will become a mostly-truthteller and be willing to discuss the nitty gritty of international relations for the industry and some day, even windows.  

I wandered into the massive Coliseum theater, usually Celine Dion’s home, for the opening event.  I expected nothing of note, as traditionally, nothing much ever happened at these, save a speech about The State of Exhibition.  But I walked in, a few minutes late, to Stacey Snider presenting the cast of The Help, followed by Colin Farrell and Lars director Craig Gillespie presenting the new version of Fright Night (nothing like the old one in this clip… and none of the humor the director and star spoke of in their presentation), and then Jackman and the other Shawn Levy with an EPK from Real Steel… which confuses me as an October movie… screams of late July. (Don Murphy was in the house, but I did not see him, so I didn’t get the chance to be “Kingo”ed in person.)

They then honored 13 past presidents and CEOs of NATO, just 2 not attending; Sumner and Barrie Loeks. It was a lovely moment of looking back and looking forward. 

More later…

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Heading To CinemaCon (nee’ ShoWest)

I had a chat with our Len Klady over the weekend and he wondered what spin would be put on the 1st Quarter box office this year.

I’m not even going to start defending the issue, aside to say for the millionth time, “it’s the movies, stupid.”

But here is what I would ask people who think something is afoot… why now?

I know there are a good half-dozen reasons people like to spew… but why did they magically take effect in the last four months?

Why were people willing to pay the 3D bump just a year ago, pushing Alice in Wonderland to over $330 million domestic?

Why is Rango making less than the 1st quarter DreamWorks Animation 3D films… since people are so tired of 3D that they are now revolting?

How did last year’s top two Q1 comedies for $178 million, when this year, it’s been only $171 million (to date)?

It must have been obvious that The Book of Eli and The Green Hornet would do about the same amount, right?

And of course, Shutter Island being delay from October ’09 to February ’10 means nothing. There must be a film from some pair like Scorsese and DiCaprio, right? I mean, Limitless, The Adjustment Bureau, or Battle: LA could have been expected to do the same kind of business… right?

Oddly, I won’t be agreeing that there is a shift in the theatrical business when Thor opens to $38 million and not Iron Man 2‘s $128 million. But I will be concerned if Pirates 4 doesn’t open to $100 million or Hangover 2 or Panda 2 don’t do over $200 million domestic each. X-Men: Full Prequel doesn’t open to $80 million or better… call me and we can discuss the sea change happening.

Hop only opens to $40m? Don’t need to hear about it. If the lunacy of opening Arthur and Your Highness in the same weekend ends up meaning two openings in the high teens, not worrying about The Industry. Rio opens to the low 40s? Great! What’s the problem?

Ohhhhhh… the box office in this weekend last year was higher! Great stat! Thank goodness the studios release the same kind of picture with the same level of marketing support and equally attractive elements on the same weekends every single year. That makes it a really smart stat!

Perhaps if costs were tripling or quintupling and the business was up 10% or so, theatrical would be seen as a can’t miss Wall Street home run. Ha.

See you in Vegas.

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BYOB 3/28/11

And this happy anniversary celebration just landed in the e-mail box…

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Hot Blog Metered Comment Paywall Going Up

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Film Delivelution 32611: Things (Don’t) Change

It’s been 18 days since the last look at the delivery evolution of film (and television). Nothing much has changed, though there has been a lot of news.

Netflix remains in front of the story, though this is mostly because of lazy thinking by journalists and Wall Street analysts. I’ve been thinking about analogies that might make it clearer why Netflix is the tail in this story, not the elephant.

1. When George Lucas made Star Wars in 1976, he was able to negotiate the rights to the films reverting to him AND to keep all merchandising rights. There had been a few cases – like Jerry Lewis – in which rights reverted to the filmmaker. But there was no VHS or DVD or even cable as we know it. HBO launched in 1972, but when Lucas made Star Wars, the network was on 9 hours a day. There was no CNN. though Ted Turner was in the cable business, making TBS “the superstation,” primarily with Atlanta Braves baseball and pro wrestling.

So when Lucas generated billions with merchandising, that cash flow point would be negotiated and put in contracts from then on, even for films for which there will be no merchandising. No one would take the chance.

2. When Jack Nicholson’s agents made the deal for Batman in 1988, there was no sense that his gross points would be worth over $60 million all in. Only five films had ever grossed $400m worldwide at the time; the three Star Wars films, E.T., and Jaws. (Indiana Jones 3 would join the group that summer, having opened four weeks before Batman). No actor had gross points on any of those films.

But in that case, everyone had won. When Steven Spielberg wanted to make Hook a star-studded film and the only way to spend as much as he wanted on effects and to have the stars was to make it a back-end heavy movie, spending little above-the-line upfront, but “sharing” the risk and opportunity with the studio. But without the film being a massive hit, there was little chance of Tri-Star making any real money on the movie, as so much was going out.

New Line made The Mask in 1993, they wanted Peter Reigert to add some familiar, likable flavor to the movie. But the budget didn’t allow him to be paid his asking rate. So he and his agent made a deal for a gross point after a certain breakeven point on this film that New Line saw as small. New Line had had only two films in its history do as much as $50 million domestic; Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and TMNT2. So this film, based on an obscure comic and starring a TV guy and an unknown actress was aiming at $40 million, at best. Points for anyone besides the biggest movie starts were not the standard of the day. Push came to shove, and Reigert, the fourth lead in the film, made more money on the movie than any of the other actors. The studio didn’t see a $350 million worldwide hit coming.

Agents continued to push for gross point deals. By the early 2000s, as DVD revenues became a cash cow, points replaced $20 million paydays as the gold standard, with a balance between massive salaries and gross points. Then, it was mega-salaries AND points. By 2006′s Mission:Impossible III, it had gotten so out of hand – with Tom Cruise scoring a $60m+ payday while Paramount scraped to get out of the red ink – that it became a very public, very ugly issue.

As DVD numbers have settled into a less amazing number, studios have tightened their belts. This was positioned as “pushing back against talent,” but though the studios do not want to publicly discuss it, it is a matter of survival. There are still insanely generous deals out there. But as the cost of production rose to meet the cost of talent (including some massive perk packages not listed as salary) and the cost of overhead through the DVD Bubble era, studios found a way to spend more and more on less and less and with a smaller overall revenue stream – ironically, theatrical being the most stable revenue base – pay days in the 30s and 40s (millions) just were not an option for all but the most “guaranteed” cash cows. It had nothing to do with “pushing back,” it had to do with staying in business.

3. The distribution pattern for studio films may not feel all that different – even if it feels shorter – than it used to feel. When AMC opened the first multiplex in 1963, the basic idea was to have 2 showings of the same film, using the hourly staff more efficiency, instead of just having them sit around for 2 hours while the movie played. Then, they tried it with two different shows. When AMC started building new multiplexes nationally in the late 70s/early 80s, the screens and seating capacity per screen were pretty small, emphasizing variety over quality. Given that people were going to these tiny theaters, other older houses were encouraged to plex their big screens, which led to some truly terrible theaters, with sound issues and projection often coming from one side or the other side of the theater, rather than from the center.

But it was when new multiplexes and then megaplexes started being built in the mid-90s that things really changed. It may have seemed, from the outside, that the exhibition business was under attack, but exhibitor bankruptcies, left and right, were putting exhibitors into a cocoon (or coma), allowing them to break old real estate contracts (often with malls) and leading to a lot of newly built theaters with bigger screens and mid-sided auditoriums (200 – 350 seats).

The question came along about how exhibitors were going to fill all these screens. The answer was not, mostly, with a wider variety of product. It was the same product opening on 2 or 3 or 4 different screens – as many as 10 screens on mega-movies as mega-plexes – for the first weekend… maybe 2 or 3 on the second weekend, etc. This meant that a “screen count” of 3500 could actually be a theater count of that number and over 10,000 actual screens playing a movie on opening weekend. Essentially, movies were opening with a similar number of available seats, but instead of having to have 5 opportunities day to catch the start of a new movie, a big film might well be playing every half hour through opening weekend.

This paradigm shift was not about the end of theatrical or about declining attendance, but about maximizing the opportunity to see movies in a positive way… to make more start times available for the most popular films, in a theater with a big enough screen to separate it from your big screen TV and high quality sound and the communal film experience. For studios, it was about maximizing early revenues so that they could get to their ever-shorter window to post-theatrical where there was a big pot of cash waiting, while leaving little of the theatrical revenue behind.

Of course, this didn’t quite work the way everyone thought it would. The pressure on theaters to move product out as soon as possible – taking more advantage of big opening weekend advertising spends bringing in more new popcorn-buying bodies meant that even well-performing films that were a few weeks old were getting pushed out faster than ever, even if there were just 10 films playing at an 18-screen theater.

4. When Apple launched their trailer site, promoting QuickTime, anyone who asked to be promoted on the top of the page was given a slot. Sometimes, the Apple staff just pushed things they liked up there. And then studios realized that it was a promotional opportunity. And wrestling for position began. And it became a negotiation to have material on the featured area at the top of the page.

The same thing has happened as every trailer, poster, promotional piece, etc from movies have become EXCLUSIVE bait for some outlet, online or off.

It’s not complicated. When studios thought of their marketing tools as just marketing tools and they were paying media for ad space to run them, that was okay. But as soon a fourth poster for an obscure movie with a bikini model in it became the chance to be on top of a web page for days for free… there became a cost to media to run a piece of marketing. And if that cost is only the time of a staffer, it is still a cost.

I guess my point is…

Things change. And while there is usually some hook for why it’s changing, it’s usually not the hook that is being promoted in public.

Time-Warner Cable is not Netflix. But as they try to roll out their new online, on-mobile program of anything/anywhere service for their customers, they are running into the exact same issue – albeit, with different details – as Netflix.

Three years ago, if T-WC was rolling out an anything/anywhere solution, they wouldn’t have gotten much resistance, as there was not a lot of value placed on those rights. But now, streaming is seen as What’s Next, and not only does everyone want to get paid… what they really, really, really don’t want is to be seen as the last sucker on the block who was giving it away for free.

I guess the public and media wet dream is that Netflix was, somehow, going to deliver everything ever made on film or TV a few months after release for $8 a month. And anyone getting in the way of that was “not cooperating.”

The truth is, film and television libraries were massively devalued over the course of a decade of big DVD sales. MGM lost, on paper, about 2/3 of its value in 4 years. So any revenue, as recently as two years ago, was considered a lot of revenue from streaming. It was a needle in a haystack of ideas about what would be The Next DVD. It was talked about, but bottom line, Netflix was doing free R&D for the movie and television industry… thanks! And lo and behold, Netflix found a way to make it into a profitable 10-figure business. Thanks again!

And now… pay me.

Since Lucas made a fortune in merchandising, the agents have said, “Thanks, George… pay me, studio.”

Since Spielberg got a studio to make what was destined to be a breakeven movie, as they gave away so much, the agents have said, “Thanks Steven… pay me, studio.”

Since the new multiplexes made it easy to allow virtually every person who wants to see a new movie to see that new movie on opening weekend (give or take a specific showtime), the industry has said, “Thanks exhibitors, now make more faster, even as we continue to put more competing delivery systems in the market and lower and lower prices!”

Netflix made it real. And now, they are paying to stay in business.

Word is that they are talking about $25m a year (plus accelerators) for the Miramax library… most recent title to gross $35m domestic, 2007.

CBS/Showtime, which recently did a deal with them for (mostly) old TV shows, wants to get paid more for new TV shows from Showtime. Shocker!!!

Thing is, if no one is paying for streaming, then streaming is an interesting gimmick and streaming on Netflix, with them picking up the bill and paying a minimum is an okay piece of business. If Netflix is now paying millions for streaming – over retail – no one would or should want to give them anything for free or cheap… even if there isn’t an alternative streaming revenue producer with which to land right now. Criterion landed at Hulu, but Hulu has a limited budget too.

Likewise, Time-Warner Cable, which wants to give people’s copyrighted materials away in a new format for no additional charge. This is Netflix 3 years ago… except that since Netflix already turned this corner, content creators are saying, “Sorry, guys” from the start. Obviously!

Meanwhile, we are all about to get squeezed – Netflix included – by the FCC allowing internet service providers to start limiting your usage… not a couple of years ago when 5 gigs was a lot of usage, but now, when one HD movie for your iPad is about a gig. Everyrone is creating ways to use bandwidth and the providers are saying, “Sure… pay us more!”

And as HBO and Showtime roll out proper streaming systems, do you think they are going to remain a “gift with purchase?”

What is really amazing about the Netflix trajectory is how fast things have moved. And the irony is that Netflix has moved the bar faster than anyone. They are NOT competitors with studio-owned pay-TV or other post-theatrical media. They are, right now, the highest bidding buyer in town and are willing to do non-exclusive deals that roll out relatively late in the game for these huge amounts of money. They clearly are trying to get ahead of a curve that they see coming. And now, by creating the market, they may be ahead of the rest… but they have a whole new set of battles to fight.

No deal will come to Netflix, save tiny companies who need promotion, without looking for a big check anymore. Nor to Hulu or Time-Warner Cable or DirecTV or anyone else who is looking to make streaming a part of their offering to the public. The horse is out of the barn.

One last look backwards… sound movies. The technology was available long before studios embraced them. But the threat of bankruptcy finally pushed the first studio into trying it on a big film. And once it was a sensation, every studio felt they had to move forward and move fast.

Streaming has been available, but in the last five years, it has become much more realistic. There was no technological block keeping studios from getting on the train at the same time Netflix did. The blocks were business blocks. Netflix is The Jazz Singer. Now, everyone is scrambling to move forward.

Nothing changes, even as things change.

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The Long, Career Snuffing History Of Lead Actresses In Comic Book Movies

Lots of beautiful, talented actresses on this list. Maybe a handful saw career benefits from doing a comic book movie.

But even the most famous ones… think hard about what their careers looked like before doing these roles… and then after.

Yes, Kim Basinger, Halle Berry, Nicole Kidman, Rachel Weisz, and Natalie Portman won Oscars after these comic book films appeared. But more in spite of these films than because of them, no? (Actually, I kinda love Constantine and many of its performances. And Portman gives one of her most powerful turns in V for Vendetta, her character offering quite a dramatic story arc.)

There were a few great performances on this list, too. Michelle Pfeiffer in Batman Returns, Angelina Jolie in Wanted (like the movie or not, she was great), Chloe Moretz in Kick-Ass. Jolie did extend her franchise as and ass-kicker and Moretz is still so young.

Margo Kidder was more famous after Superman. But not for long.

I’m not saying that Amy Adams and Emma Stone, both of whom I am a fan of, are destroying their careers with recent choices. But if you look at the history… not pretty.

Superman – Margo Kidder
Flash Gordon – Melody Anderson
Swamp Thing – Heather Locklear
Annie – Aileen Quinn
Sheena – Tanya Roberts
Supergirl – Helen Slater
Batman – Kim Basinger
Dick Tracy – Glenne Headly
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle – Judith Hoag
The Rocketeer – Jennifer Connelly
Brenda Starr – Brooke Shields
Batman Returns – Michelle Pfeiffer
The Crow – Rochelle Davis
The Shadow – Penelope Ann Miller
The Mask – Cameron Diaz
Tank Girl – Lori Petty
Batman Forever – Nicole Kidman/Drew Barrymore
Judge Dredd – Diane Lane
Barb Wire – Pam Anderson
The Phantom – Catherine Zeta-Jones
The Crow 2 – Mia Kirshner
Batman & Robin – Uma Thurman/Alicia Silverstone
Spawn – Theresa Randle
X-Men – Famke Jansen/Halle Berry
Josie & The Pussycats – Rachael Leigh Cook
From Hell – Heather Graham
Spider-Man – Kristen Dunst
Men in Black II – Rosario Dawson
Daredevil – Jennifer Garner
Bulletproof Monk – Jaime King
Hulk – Jennifer Connelly
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen – Peta Wilson
Hellboy – Selma Blair
The Punisher – Laura Harring
Catwoman – Halle Berry
Blade: Trinity – Jessica Biel
Elektra – Jennifer Garner
Constantine – Rachel Weisz
Sin City – too many to mention
Batman Begins – Katie Holmes
Fantastic Four – Jessica Alba
V for Vendetta – Natalie Portman
Superman Returns – Kate Bosworth
Ghost Rider – Eva Mendes
300 – Lena Headey
Spider-Man 3 – Bryce Dallas Howard
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
Iron Man – Gwyneth Paltrow
The Incredible Hulk – Liv Tyler
Wanted – Angelina Jolie
The Dark Knight – Maggie Gyllenhaal
The Spirit – Mendes/Johansson/King/Paulson
Watchmen – Malin Akerman
X-Men Origins: Wolverine – Lynn Collins
Kick-Ass – Chloe Moretz/Lyndsy Fonseca
The Losers – Zoe Saldana
Iron Man 2 – Scarlett Johansson
Jonah Hex – Megan Fox
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World – Mary Elizabeth Winstead
Red – Dame Helen Mirren
The Green Hornet – Cameron Diaz

67 Comments »

Weekend Estimates by Wimpy Klady

So… the estimates on Wimpy Kid 2 are a couple of million (about 10%) more than the original. Win. Not a mega-win, but a win.

Sucker Punch beat the opening of The Owls Of Schmoogity Doogity, so it’s not McZ’s worst opening. But $60m domestic is looking to be a long ways away right about now. Much as I am looking forward to Lois Lane in stilettos and a push-up, one must be concerned about the shallowness of the director’s Rolodex at WB these days. If Visionary S is going to be Nolan’s puppet – which I find to be an unlikely scenario, in spite of WB’s attempts to bolster the project by using Nolan as a front man – why not just hire someone who can deliver what Nolan can deliver visually?

Oh well…

The happy story of the weekend is two indies doing some business with Limitless and The Lincoln Lawyer (perhaps in the Top 50 of the worst movie titles ever… unless the movie is a biopic). They aren’t world beaters, but in a weak year (so far) for the indies, nice to see a spark of life.

On the other hand, after a great box office triumph with Black Swan, Searchlight seems in the weeds with two good films, Cedar Rapids and Win Win. Both were at Sundance this year and Win Win was probably my favorite movie at the festival. Giamatti is, as ever, great. Amy Ryan is in her best role (albeit somewhat conventional), and this new kid, Alex Shaffer. Plus really nice supporting turns from Bobby Cannavale, Melanie Lynskey, and Burt Young. It’s still just on 23 screens, but slow rollouts outside of the awards season can be brutal. Really nice, accessible movie from Tom McCarthy. It needs some media heroes.

Music Box has done nicely with Potiche, a solid comedy of roles and manners from Ozon. And the one-man publicity machine that is Julian Schnabel is getting where he can with Miral. It’s tough to sell a movie that is not as controversial as it seems to be intended to be, yet also pisses hair-trigger reactionary Zionists off simply by existing. I look forward to Julian’s cut landing on DVD some day.

297 Comments »

Friday Estimates By You Will Not Be Prepared Klady

March 19, 2004 – Dawn of the Dead – $10.9m opening day – $102.4m worldwide total
March 9, 2007 – 300 – $28.1m opening day – $456m worldwide total
March 6, 2009 – Watchmen – $24.5m opening day – $185.3m worldwide total
March 25, 2011 – Sucker Punch – $7.9m opening day – ? worldwide total

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole is another Snyder film for WB. September 24, 2010 – $4.5m opening day – $140m worldwide.

Will McZ’s Superman be his Terminator Salvation? (ironic that the last SuperMess was in pre-production with McG before production issues – including fear of flying – pulled the plug at the last minute.)

And for those who suck at the teat of Mr. Robinov and are looking for a whipping boy to move the stench to this morning, dare I point out that Kick-Ass‘s opening day was $7.7m, just a couple of hundred thousand off of Sucker Punch, in spite of 10s of million more spent on Sucker Punch‘s domestic marketing campaign? Perhaps Scott Pilgrim vs The World was the example of a greater fiscal failure that execs were reaching for this morning… the difference being that there were some non-Geek fans of the work in that film (including me), even if U couldn’t figure out how to find them and get them to the box office.

It’s odd. I have no personal animus against Zack Snyder. But the “visionary director” advertising tag on his third film… that did put his head on the chopping block. And as I wrote, his version of the film was better than what was released. But that’s not really a testament to his skill. He should have made a better movie that could be released under the terms to which he agreed with the studio. And then, if he wanted to do the 3:15 version after that, so be it. He signed up for a shorter film (300 was under 2 hours) and if he couldn’t make it, he shouldn’t have signed up.

Ridley Scott’s version of Kingdom of Heaven and Scorsese’s cut of Gangs of New York remain prime examples of studios interfering with superior work, trying to make it more commercial… and failing. But neither could have been unexpected from those directors. Their films were simplified into relative baby food. But we’re talking about political, heavily-character driven period films from two true visionary directors. (Scorsese’s wasn’t about the length, it was about the audience getting every detail… ugh.)

If there is an hard-R-rated Sucker Punch in there somewhere… a CG Showgirls… I bet it would have caught more critical imaginations, if not more brickbats from feminists. And there may well be more length. This one is, officially, 2 hours exactly. And PG-13. In other words, the studio appears to have demanded some tighter rules for Snyder going in, seeking to amp up the commerciality. Unless the international is triple domestic – which could happen, but is extremely unlikely – it didn’t work.

I think that if Mr. Robinov wants to make Superman his fifth film with Snyder, who is batting .250 for the studio and is putting off the sequel to his only money maker to do Superman, he should commit to resigning if Snyder’s Supes doesn’t crack $500 million.

Looking at the last three years at WB, they’ve had 17 domestic $100m movies. Four were from New Line, which has been shuttered and then reshuttered. One is from Alcon. One was a distribution deal on Terminator Salvation. Two were Potters. One was Batman. One was Nolan’s Inception… all hail. Two were from Todd Phillips, who got massive backend to make up for having to fight hard to get Hangover money ($35m), which the studio split it with Legendary. And one was from Eastwood, who did get money from the studio, but works on a creative raft, doing as he sees fit.

That leaves Sherlock Holmes, Clash of the Titans, Get Smart, and Watchmen… the four $100m domestic grossers that WB really developed in-house in the last three years. Of those, Sherlock Holmes did $525 million worldwide and could be a solid franchise for a while. Clash came in just under $500 million, but is a major box office hit for the studio. Get Smart was just over breakeven and Watchmen lost.

I’m not saying that the studio and Robinov don’t deserve credit for the other success they have had. After all, they got into the movies they got into and even films like Inception and Due Date, which were pay-off films for directors doing projects expected to do even more, were funded and well sold. I guess my point is that the studio is not exactly swinging for the fences in recent years. Their list of successes looks a lot better than some of the other studios, but Harry Potter, Christopher Nolan, and Todd Phillips are responsible for more than half of the domestic gross of WB’s $100m class of films in the last three years. In that same period, McZ’s hit red ink twice and looks like he’s heading for a third time… with no black ink to be found since 300.

As Potter ends and Nolan is positioned for a fourth Batman film (doesn’t seem likely, really, does it?) or the next surprise phenom, a studio starved for franchises (Batman is still Batman, Sherlock is really the last new one standing… fingers crossed on Green Lantern), they are handing the keys on Superman over to Snyder, even though he has shown, time and again, that without Scottish abs, he can’t find a female audience.

I guess I understand better why Guillermo del Toro is upset about losing his funding after thinking about this call. (GdT would have made something great out of material like Sucker Punch, I bet. Dark and truly tragic. And every bit as visually compelling.)

Wimpy Kid 2 is doing almost exactly what Wimpy Kid 1 did. That meant $65m domestic last time out.

Relativity (formerly Overture) has its biggest hit in Limitless and will break into Overture’s Top 4 all-time today, perhaps breaking into the Top 3 and looking to be the #2 hit in either company’s portfolio. (Of course, Relativity doesn’t want to have Overture’s baggage hanging over them… but it’s much of the same team at the newly launched Relativity distribution company.) The film will likely be in the Top Ten for films released in the first quarter of 2011, which is a small victory for some, but a significant landmark for Relativity, likely to be the only independent distributor with a $50m domestic grosser before the summer.

Rango hits $100 million today.

For what it’s worth, Paul will be Simon Pegg’s biggest Simon Pegg-written movie (of 3) domestically by Monday evening and is probably heading towards being his biggest worldwide as well, making it a little profitable.

18 Comments »

Back In The USSA

Off to a screening, just minutes after arriving home.

However… I was shocked… actually shocked, by the uniformity of reviews of Sucker Punch. You will be unprepared.

And Nikki, however potentially off by 30% or more based-on-east-coast-matinees early studio numbers may be, is out with an $8m Friday leap… which would make this Zack Snyder’s worst live action opening day so far. That includes Dawn Of The Dead, which started with $10.9m in March 2004.

Can Warner Bros actually hand a guy who is losing value with every movie he makes their crown jewel? And if they continue down this road, can Jeff Robinov survive it if the film turns into another Superman Returns?

Of course, now I have to see the film. And like Watchmen, I will see it on my own dime.

I hope that it’s better than I am reading… but I am not holding my breath. It may well be another Hostel 2/Mother of Tears situation for me, this time with John Carpenter’s The Ward as the “better, if still goofy, but extreme, not misogynistic, and equally insane” version of this. (And of course, a lot cheaper and a lot less widely released. Ironically, WB has the UK on that film.) In other words, a lot of fun in the spirit of the genre, not testosterone.

Is it all the female empowerment that a masturbating teen could hope for? Will any girls/women show up to watch the 20-ish-Pussycat-Dolls-Lobotomized-And-Blowing-Shit-Up-Like-The-Boys? Or should we all believe the studio when they tell us that the movie barely cost more than Battle: LA, so everything is okay… $60m domestic and $90m international and they can break even in post-theatrical (no that math doesn’t really add up… even at $80m… true).

I know that one of our regular commenters here is responsible for one of the rare “fresh” reviews of Sucker Punch, so I will look forward to his input. But mostly, I am curious to see it for myself.

I was dressing for the closing night party in Bermuda last night, when on the TV was Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle. It was even worse than I remembered. I mean, blisteringly bad. And in retrospect, career crushing. McG is another one that WB has tried to rehab. Maybe Eli Roth will be next.

And now, I’m off…

54 Comments »

Elizabeth Taylor, 79, Forever Young On Film

What can one say?

Her last theatrical film appearance was in The Flintstones, harkening – though surely unexpectedly – to her earliest work as a child actor, 52 years earlier.

I met Taylor in 1980, when she was in the stage show, The Little Foxes. The breathlessness around her in Miami was astounding. I knew who and what she was, but this was the first time I had encountered a pop star reaction by people over 50.

I was 16. And was more interested in her co-star Maureen Stapleton, And before that, Mercedes McCambridge, who had turned up in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. I was not being an acting snob. I just never really “got” Elizabeth Taylor.

But many millions did.

Her film career really peaked just two years after my birth, in 1966′s Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Wolff?. After that, she was really more famous for being famous than anything else. And in many ways, that may have been the case for much of her career. Marriages, White Diamonds, Michael Jackson, AIDS benefits…. even Cleopatra is a better story (helping bring down a studio) than a movie… even the first Oscar she won – an achievement peopple felt she was entilted to and would not earn on merit – was for the forgettable Butterfiield 8.

I guess it was the exception proving the rule, but perhaps even more, her personal tenacity, that ended up finding her a second Oscar for Wolff, in a role no one knew she had in her, just 6 years later. Maybe it was that drive that made her and the eyes and the body greater than the sum of its parts.

Did she live too long to end up on the same cloud with her once co-star James Dean, friend Michael Jackson, Marilyn, and Elvis? Only time will tell.

21 Comments »

The Hot Blog

Quote Unquotesee all »

DEADLINE: How does a visualist feel about people watching your films on a phone or VOD?
REFN: It depends on what kind of movie you make. We had great success with Only God Forgives on multiple platforms in the U.S. Young people will decide how they see it, when they want to see it. Don’t try to fight it. Embrace it. That’s a wonderful opportunity. We’re at the most exciting time since the invention of the wheel, in terms of creativity because distribution and accessibility have changed everything. A camera is still a camera whether it’s digital or not; there’s still sound; an actor is an actor. Ninety-nine percent of what you do is going to be seen on a smart phone – I know this is the greatest thing ever made because it allows people to choose, watching what you do on this format or go into a theater and see it on a screen. That means more people than ever will see what I do, which is personally satisfying in terms of vanity. But you have to be able to adapt, to accept things in different order and length than we’re used to. We are in a very, very exciting time.
~ Nic Refn to Jen Yamato

DEADLINE: You mention Tarantino, who with Christopher Nolan and a few other giants, saved film stock from extinction. To him, showing a digital film in a theater is the equivalent of watching TV in public. Make an argument for why digital is a good film making canvas.
REFN: Costwise, it’s a very effective way for young people to start making movies. You can make your movie on an iPhone. It’s wonderful seeing how my own children use technology to enhance creativity. For me it’s a wonderful canvas. Sure, I love grain in film. I love celluloid. But I also like creativity. I like crayons, I like pencils, I like paint. It’s all relative. Technology is more inclusive. A hundred years ago when film was invented, it was an elitist club. Very few people got to make it, very few people controlled it and very few people owned it. A hundred years later, storytelling through images is everyone’s domain. It’s ultimate capitalism. There are no rules, and no barriers and no Hays Code. Where does this go in another hundred years? I don’t know but I would love to see it.
~ Nic Refn To Jen Yamato