The Hot Blog Archive for October, 2011

DP/30: A Dangerous Method, director David Cronenberg

And our “Lunch With David” from Eastern Promises

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Proposition: Jim Cameron Is An Independent Filmmaker

It struck me while I was at the Titanic 3D presentation – really doesn’t need the 3D, but the 4K print looks spectacular and will be a huge hit next April, especially internationally – that Jim Cameron and Jon Landau, as singularly huge as their projects are, are really independent filmmakers at heart. In many ways, this is true of Peter Jackson as well.

Coincidentally, I was talking to Letty Aronson, who is Woody Allen’s sister and producer over the last 15 years… and the same things that she talked about regarding Woody were completely reminiscent of the way that Jim and Jon seem to think.

What say you?

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Weekend Estimates by Snowy Klady

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So the big story this weekend isn’t Puss… but it is animated. Tintin opened to an estimated $55.8 million in 19 international markets.

It was the biggest non-sequel opening of a Hollywood film in French history. It was 10x bigger than the weekend’s #2 film in England. It was even BIG in Belgium!

But back to the US…

There’s nothing shocking or wildly snow stormed about the Puss In Boots opening. It fit the pre-snow Friday opening. Maybe 2 or 3 million was lost to weather… but not much more. Don’t forget that this is a spin-off character being released in an untraditional animation slot.

I am a little surprised that Paranormal 3’s drop stayed as high as it did. But I guess that makes it normal, not paranormal.

In Time is only interesting in as much as an opening at this level may mean something different now than it did a couple of years ago. I don’t really know what I think about this. There are certainly more disastrous openings from studios. But is this a good opening? Is Justin Timberlake an 8 figure opener now? It’s less than Friends With Benefits and that was seen as a bad opening. Hmmmm…

Johnny Depp is a major movie star… when he is giving his audience what they want. They don’t particularly want The Rum Diary.

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Delivelution 10/29/11: It’s The Windows, Stupid!

It was a big week for the ongoing evolution of the post-theatrical/post-first-run-tv business.

After all the relief expressed by the media – already anxious for a comeback – regarding Netflix’s deal with the CW, the deal that really explains where things are going came along. You see, it’s not Netflix vs Hulu at all. It’s the creation of a post-first-run window on Hulu and then a secondary window for Netflix.

Meanwhile, the evolving plan for a 4-week sell-thru window for DVD expanded to Blockbuster/Dish as their contract with WB came up for renegotiation.

This is also kind a Voilà! moment for the fight over the theatrical window as well. It becomes clearer and clearer that regardless of the games being played by the studios lately, the thing they may well be chasing is a similar 28-day window for theatrical. They keep making the argument that most of the theatrical revenue is in the first four weeks of most movies. And they are right.

But the thinking is wildly simplistic.

Theatrical release films are not TV shows. TV shows are free. If you sell someone a subscription to a slate of TV reruns for $8 a month, it’s a different thing than trying to get people to buy individual movies for, say, $8 a pop, one a month.

There is absolutely a point where feature films can and should become subscription bait. There are massive libraries for which this makes perfect sense.

But feature films released into the market are individual products being launched every week of the year. Unlike TV, you are not selling an ongoing relationship with the film. You are selling a product with a single, focused call to action. Then, in the sell-thru business, you are selling to an expanded market as well as an existing market. But you are still relying on the perceived value created by the initial theatrical offer.

The film business found out very clearly about how increasing the competition in the sell-thru and rental marketplaces led to a massive increase in marketing costs for that post-theatrical market. Some want to blame this on too wide a space between the theatrical marketing and the DVD marketing. But I would argue, still, that it is the competition in the DVD space that created an increasing need to spend on marketing DVD, not a lack of brand identity four-to-six months after theatrical release.

I would also argue that streaming is actually more of a cannibalism problem for theatrical than DVD because it becomes a part of a a massive, massive pool instantly. And real people on real budgets, already spending $80 – $110 a month on their cable/satellite entertainment, are never, NEVER going for “fight pricing.” After a decade of intense effort, VOD/PPV are still a limited business at $5 or so a pop.

Even people who write about how they would happily pay $20 to see the new film at home, spending less than the cost of movie tickets and parking and dinner and babysitting, etc, on a Saturday night, are probably not projecting just how many times they would really be willing to drop that 20. When they do research on this, have they thought to ask, “Will you pay $1000 a year to see one just-released movie on your TV every week for the year.” I know. It hurts.

$100 a year for a service that gives you access to a wide array of otherwise difficult-to-come-by-quickly content on your TV want is a very different sell than deciding to drop $20 to watch one movie on your TV or even to go out for the evening and spending $100, all in. Similarly, $350 for 17 Sundays of football broadcasts that are on free TV may seem nuts… about $20 a weekend. But it’s an indulgence that people choose, overcoming the price point. It’s also a live event, which will never be fresh again once completed.

The value of movies is an artificial one, now more than ever. Putting piracy aside, that illusion has to be maintained to keep any price points as high as the cost of a DVD or Blu-ray or a trip to a theater, which is not just a purchase of a film, but of an out-of-home, communal experience. The more the industry signals to people that film is only television writ large, the more it will devalue the product.

Windows matter.

And now, back to television.

Windows matter.

The deals with the CW, as many of the deals Netflix and Hulu have done, signal that we should expect broadcast television to be windowed as first-run, paid second-run (with some free second-run and download per unit/season subscription at iTunes or elsewhere), and third-run to platforms like Netflix.

I personally believe that there will an additional option in the next decade that will involve a subscription platform that includes all options plus additional perks, like early view for shows. The question then will be who exploits content. In other words, if WB produces a show that runs on Disney’s ABC, which company exploits the content post-premiere and what will the sense of cannibalism be between the two forms of delivery.

Ironically, like the current issues in film theatrical, this is a real issue that is best determined by all the companies involved. This is why studios showing a lack of concern about their partners in exhibition seem so callous. As in the example above, if ABC was to allow WB to exploit a show that they premiered on their network soon after that first run – or even before first run – it would be a math equation. If an ABC show is watched or DVRed by 8 million people and that number drops to 6 million because 2 million have a subscription to The Warner Bros Stream and don’t feel the need to have a relationship to the network exhibition of that content anymore because they can pull it up on demand at any time, it’s not the end of the world. But it does change the value of the content to ABC.

And it continues from there. What is the value of a no-commercial window vs a commerical-loaded window? Instead of paying $8 a month for Hulu-Plus, would some happily pay $15 a month for Hulu-Plus-Plus with no commercials at all? Etc, etc, etc.

The technological opportunities are changing the math and consumers will soon have even more options. (Right now, they have more than ever before.) But in the end, it’s all about the giant pot of money and how it gets distributed. Getting caught up in “Netflix this” and “Hulu that” and “Amazon might” or even “YouTube is” really misses the point. The shake out we’re at the start of is a lot bigger than that.

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Friday Estimates by Klady Boots

There’s no Saw.

Creepy.

Instead, we have an animated cat with a knife. Business is okay, not sensational. It’s at about the Rango level… a wisp behind. Still, given that there hasn’t been an animated $20m opening in October since Shark Tale, not bad. Look for mid-30s at the end of the weekend.

Interestingly, Puss seems to be the first serious blockade to Real Steel, which did a great job of getting the movie into the family market without being fully able to market to kids because of the rating. This will be Steel’s biggest drop. Meanwhile, it’s closing in on $100m overseas and it still hasn’t opened in heavyweight countries like Japan, Germany, or China.

Paranormal Activity 3 has an estimated 65% drop Friday-to-Friday, but keep that massive midnight Thursday push in mind. Expect a drop in the low-mid 50s when all is done. The Friday number here is more than 15% better than the second Friday for PA2 and the movie is $14m ahead overall. So Paramount has to be thrilled with the second weekend numbers. (They might want to send a fruit basket over to Lionsgate for not Saw-ing off some of the horror-ween money.)

On the other hand, $12 million and a cloud of bust can’t be too thrilling for Fox on In Time… or Justin Timberlake for that matter. This is his second lead since The Social Network and his second underperforming opening. Two things define movie stardom. 1. Open movies. 2. Make great movie choices that have legs. JT is a star, but he needs a real hit to become a movie star. Meanwhile, Amanada Seyfried’s people are probably feeling great about the dark hair about now… if they could only get imdb to pull the credit from her page. (It’s always possible that Fox International could find an audience overseas for this film and keep it out of the red. But it will be tough.)

The Rum Diary is Film District’s fourth release. Honestly, I don;’t know if it’s an output deal… but it feels like one. Late into the game and festival avoidant, it just smells funny… especially for a Depp movie. Johnny did the rounds. But a $5m launch is an oddity in his history. Usually it’s a movie that no one wants to see (whether of quality or not) or a smash (whether of quality or not). Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark took lumps (unfairly, I feel) for its box office. It will be curious to see whether the press is gentler on Johnny.

While the holds last weekend seemed remarkable for the holdovers, this weekend, they seem remarkably weak. Only one Top 10 holdover out of seven is looking at a better than 49% hold for the weekend.

Two studio movies are opening in limited release this weekend. Sony’s Anonymous settled on 265 screens for a word-of-mouth effort. They just haven’t been able to convince enough people with advertising for this story. It looks like they’ll be around $3500 per screen for the weekend, which isn’t a disaster of 2012 proportions, but does explain why they are taking some more time to try to move this film forward. Audiences have enjoyed it. You just need to find a way to get them to see it.

The other one is Paramount’s Sundance acquisition, Like Crazy, which has been word-of-mouth screening like crazy and is looking at a $30k-$40k per screen over the weekend on just 4 screens. Good number. No a phenom number. But a solid start.

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Canadians At The Movies

The real name is “First Reel At The Movies” and it stars two of Toronto’s finest. The funny thing is, you can also get a good sense of how far print media needs to go to catch up with video production. No credits, no clips, and not even editing at the head and tail. Charming, but too easy to fix to leave it this way. Still, this way seems to lie the future for many.

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DP/30: To Hell & Back, documentarian Danfung Dennis

“—-‘- ——!”

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19 Weeks To Oscar: The Mean Season?

The Academy Awards is, and always has been, about what those 5800 people like… what they really like! Sometimes, liking also means making a statement. But if any of you see a Schindler’s List on the board this season, give me a ring.

What I see is Rocky vs Taxi Driver, All The President’s Men, Network, and Bound for Glory. What I see is Gladiator vs Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Erin Brockovich, and Traffic (and a fluff ball called Chocolat).

But here’s what I am hopeful about.

The rest of the column…

BYOB 102711

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DP/30: Anonymous, director Roland Emmerich

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Return of The NC-17

So Shame has pulled down the NC-17 rating that was expected to go with Mr Fassbender’s trunk show. Time for the United States and The Academy to grow up and smell the lube. Great.

But less specifically, let’s talk about the NC-17 again.

I believe the NC-17 was a cynical attempt by the studios, aka the MPAA, to stop the conversation about the lack of a legitimate “adult” rating and to bury the artistic impulse to make films with that kind of content in them once and for all, at least at a studio level.

The late, great Jack Valenti was Mr. Ratings from the beginning. The old excuse had been that the MPAA didn’t own the X rating, which had been created by pornographers who wanted there to be a clear distinction about what their customers would receive. It was a badge of porn honor. So they used that rating, but could not stop others from using it without MPAA approval.

With the creation of the NC-17, the MPAA owned the copyright to the tag, but immediately ghettoized it by pointing out that any porn movie could get this rating. They just had to pay the fees. Of course, it is expensive to get rated and why would any porn want to pay that fee? But that rational allowed for censorship by newspapers and mall-based theaters and even some standalone theaters.

The NC-17 is now, ironically, 21 years old. Shame will be the 11th movie released with the rating from a major studio or division of same. 3 from Fine Line/New Line. 2 each from Universal, Searchlight, and Sony Classics. One Focus. One MGM.

The only film to gross more than $12 million domestically with an NC-17 is Showgirls, at just over $20m. The biggest studio-based NC-17 grosser since 1995 was an Almodovar, earning $5.3 million.

Miramax, pre-Disney, released 2. Aries, Trimark, Zeitgeist, 7 Arts, and October released one each that grossed over $500k. There are 8 other releases under $500k.

That’s 26 total in 21 years. That’s not a functional adult rating. That’s playing the lottery.

Of course, many films that might have been NC-17 have gone out unrated, which is the prerogative of any non-MPAA distributor. But there have been censorship issues with unrated films as well.

I would love for Shame to be the highest grossing NC-17 film ever. That is the high bar for Fox Searchlight to achieve here. That would open the door for other NC-17 films. But it’s a very tough film. So it won’t be easy.

What’s most interesting to me about Searchlight’s choice to buy this film is that they went there once before, disappointingly. The film, The Dreamers, offered up a very often naked Eva Green. Magnificent to look at… but not much of a movie. This time, they have a real movie. This is awards-level material. And the nudity and sex, while sometimes sexy, is not prurient. I’m sure someone will show up to ogle the cast, but this is a movie about more than sex and the experience of it is not a fun, sexy romp. Maybe that will be the great lesson… if it succeeds commercially.

The argument that MPAA/CARA lets a ton of violence pass with PG-13s that require no parental consent while an erect penis has to be hidden from anyone under 17 is a legitimate beef. But I am more concerned about the opportunity to have an adult rating that succeeds rather than getting caught up in adjudicating the ratings system’s lax attitude towards extreme violence.

Thing is, if the was a working adult rating, than there would be less pressure to be overly generous to violent studio pictures. But right now, NC-17 is a hard cap on the studio system. And I think it’s 100% as intended. Anything that limits the bottom line is bad to studios. So you could make the greatest NC-17 film ever… they’d still want an R version and if you could, a PG-13, please. They don’t want filmmakers at studios to be able to argue that a movie should.could go out NC-17. It’s just bad for business. So pretty much every deal – especially the rare final cut deals – includes language in which the director agrees to deliver a rating of R or PG-13, depending on the film.

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Potter DVD Freeze

When I read about the removal of Potter DVDs from shelves on Jan 1, my first thought wasn’t Disney, but rebranding with improved price points. I think they’re just clearing inventory. As you can see below, WB themselves are now selling Blu-ray for $9 a pop for the first 7 films. They are pushing out a big $35 package with a book and other toys for the last film, which hits shelves next week and will be looking to be a hot holiday gift.

But my expectation after the removed product will be a relaunch of Potter as the first fully integrated all-platform franchise release. I wouldn’t expect the relaunch to take more than a few months. Buy it for, say, $25, and get Blu-ray, DVD, and Ultraviolet. You can have Harry with you anywhere at anytime. Download it to your portable player if you like… or stream it… or watch it on your TV. Your call. Own the whole series of 8 movies for $150 and you’re set to have Potter for life.

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DP/30 Sneak Peek: Carey Mulligan on Incest, Nudity & SHAME

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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