It’s funny how our box office phenoms – and The Hunger Games clearly qualifies – don’t have the kind of impact they used to have. Perhaps it is that The Media doesn’t have the weight it used to have. A cover of Time or Newsweek used to mean something. Now it means that these magazines need to sell more copies and will do anything to draw attention.
Or perhaps it is just that almost everything, no matter how large, feels like it’s in a niche these days. Obviously, 30 million or so people seeing The Hunger Games is a really big niche. But it feels a lot like a cult that you have either joined or rejected. Even from a critical standpoint. I am glad we are having the discussion about the empty death show… but for people who know and care about the books, it isn’t really a serious problem. And the same kind of thing was/is true of the Twilight series. Either you are in or you are out. There there is a boatload of money in “in.”
But look further. Who are Wrath of the Titans, Mirror Mirror, 21 Jump St, The Lorax, John Carter, Salmon Fishing In The Yemen, Act of Valor, and Project X for? These are all niche films. JC hoped to go 4-quadrant, but it suffered crib death. But none of the rest want any of your stinkin’ money if you aren’t geek, kids, hip tweens, kids, geeks, middle-aged women, right wingers, or horny boys.
Obviously, I am simplifying a bit. But on a gut level…
Back to Wrath, this sequel is apparently not suckage… but the opening dropped by more than 50% from the first remake’s surprisingly strong opening. It could make a comeback and get to 50% of the previous remake’s $64m opening. But a rather small victory. How much of this is sequalitis from a movie that is now one of the standard titles used to explain 3D excess and how much is Katniss kicking Zeus in the balls?
Mirror Mirror is, sadly, crappy crappy. It has so many good pieces and so little real energy. Even Relativity, if you’ve seen recent TV spots, has come to realize that the only people they can hope to trick into paying for this are the parents of girls under 10 who either want to be Snow White, laugh at dwarfs, or dig the costumes. Today, they’re hoping for Beauty & The Beast 3D numbers.
And Salmon Fishing in The Yemen shows us, once again, that the desperate effort to keep a movie for over-40s in the theater for long enough for that audience to find it and appreciate it is a brutal task in this distribution era. CBS Films almost doubled their audience from the previous Friday… to $300k. At this pace, the film will successfully gross $6.5 million over the next two months.
On a side note… Emily Blunt should be a movie star. A real one. With her personality defining the work as much as her acting. In an industry desperate for stars, she is one of the rare cases of someone who actually has “It,” but can’t find a project that takes proper advantage of it. If anyone ever wrote a “Pretty Woman” again, Blunt could actually be The Next Julia Roberts. But the rom-coms of the moment are mean in a way that doesn’t fit her. Put her up against Gerry Butler and she would eat the jerks he plays in those movies alive from frame one. Anyway…
ADD, 10:54a – About Bully, Change.org said in an article this week, “Katy’s petition mobilized almost half a million people. If everyone who signed her petition buys a ticket to see this movie, it will be an amazingly successful documentary.”
Fewer than 4000 people went to the film in NY & LA yesterday, reminding us that signatures are cheap.
And I don’t really want to tell you much of anything.
What I will tell you is that the series starts off in a relatively low key way. Various “Kings of the North” seek to remove the ill-conceived Joffrey from the throne. The Imp settles in at his family’s new home base as his father battles and his brother remains in a cage. The Dothraki wander in the wilderness, seeking an opportunity to heal and allow the baby dragons to grow. And The Starks are plotting from all their locations, whether on the arm of the king or pretending to be a young boy.
There is sex, but less than last season… so far, at least. But there is plenty of epic bad behavior… acts of cruelty that you will not soon forget.
The show is still willing to take its time. Much of the first few episodes are a smirk more than a laugh (though I laughed out loud quite a bit), but the tension is palpable.
I kind of hate reading people explaining why they aren’t turning in a lot of work on their blog or elsewhere… but here we are.
I have been thrust into a trip to the Cannes Film Festival – I know… boo-hoo! – and I have spend the last couple of days trying to get all the pieces to fit together. My cameraman, for instance, is coming in from Spain by way of Morocco. The block of time on my schedule is pushing out other festivals that were gracious enough to invite a visit. And then… I have to figure out shooting as much video as possible at a festival I don’t know well and which doesn’t know me. I’m still not quite ready to be my normal, 30-minute-demanding, hard-ass type DP/30 producer. But I have about six weeks to grow some French balls.
Meanwhile, I am still heading to Urbana-Champaign for the 12th time, my 2-year-old son’s 3rd trip there. Still intend to do Seattle. And there’s a rather elaborate family trip in the planning for June. So my dance card is, joyously, full.
As for the news…
I couldn’t care much less about Keith Olbermann. He’s a smart guy and a terrific entertainer, but he’s turned into the left-wing version of Dennis Miller. The gag isn’t funny anymore. Radio is surely next.
I am deeply saddened by the vote on the SAG dismantling/merger with AFTRA, even though it was undeniably going to happen. It was inevitable since the settlement of the last SAG strike was forced on the then-leadership. Really, it was inevitable the minute that WGA went on strike in November 5, 2007. I don’t want to re-adjudicate the wisdom of that choice, but the early date of that strike made it clear that there would be no combined strike of writers and actors… and therefore, no real chance for SAG. That and AFTRA was there with the shiv, just waiting for the right angle by which it could be shoved into SAG’s spine. Great way to start a marriage.
Of course, the cancellation of a show that no one watched is the top story in the entertainment media today. We’re a messed up group of entertainment journalists these days.
Good luck finding something good to see at the multiplex this weekend. I am actually very curious about Wrath of the Titans… and the most excellent Jeff, Who Lives At Home expands.
Eiko Ishioka was a genius and her presence in this film is the one true redeeming value. So buy the picture book.
This unfunny, uncharming 5 mile per hour fender bender had a lot of elements that worked. The actors are trying hard – the dwarves are amazingly effective actors as a group… never get to see that in movies – the images by Tarsem are imaginative and well done, and the story really wants to charm you to within an inch of your Disney memories.
However, Tarsem doesn’t know how to shoot or edit comedy. Lily Collins is beautiful, but not a powerful on-screen presence. Armie Hammer is working his ass off… but is left hanging over and over again.
But it’s really the fault of the screenplay. It’s not funny enough to be a strong comedy, not smart enough to play it for adults and kids as it seems to want to, and not clear enough about what kind of movie it wants to be. So the speed and rhythm of the movie changes from scene to scene – sometimes during a scene – so that you never really get the feel of clear forward movement.
I was really trying to go with the film. I like Tarsem’s eye. Julia Roberts seemed to be having fun. LOVED the dwarves, especially Mark Povinelli, who felt to me like he has the ability to do non-dwarf roles and blend, much as Peter Dinklage has.
Roberts had her best moment at the very end of the film… though the scene felt like so much of an afterthought that it was painful to see something strong happen and then get thrown away. There is another surprise at the end that feels like the producers and Julia got left hanging by George Clooney and then went for a great actor who is 100% wrong for the role even though he recently was in a hit involving royalty.
You can’t be really angry at this film. It’s so lightweight and trying so hard to please that you just want to pet its head and feed it before it gets hit by a car.
I’d pay to see the Theron Snow White trailer before paying to see this thing again.
Look… I respect adults and expect people to be able to consider material like this in a reasonable way.
I do not believe that Drive is an anti-Semitic film. The only really interesting piece of Martin Leaf’s argument is the Jewish star that seems to be the frame of the garage. I have no idea if that is coincidental or not.
But there is something profound and interesting to me, as a critical thinker about films, about this guy’s obsessive interest in the details of this movie. I think, in an odd way, it is a compliment to the movie that he is so convinced.
And the truth is, to me, that Nic Refn decided on these characters being Jews who get their hands dirty, something we haven’t seen much of in movies outside of Once Upon A Time In America, and may well have thought about Kosher ritual as a character element. I’m not offended by that as a Jew. I think it’s kind of brilliant.
I don’t believe in universalizing details in art unless there is a clear intent by the artist for an idea or image to be universal. Clearly not the case here.
Is the Gosling character a Jesus character in this film? I think Refn may have been playing with that. But he is hardly a turn the other cheek dude. And Jesus talked a LOT more than The Driver.
Still, take a look. Not a sophisticated piece of editing. I know it won’t thrill FilmDistrict or others associated with the film to see more stuff being thrown at them. But I find it an interesting intellectual exercise to see how someone sees a piece of work in such a micro way, even when I disagree completely.
And by the way, I think the obsession with the Jewish angle makes clear that the lawsuit’s focus on the ads allegedly invoking Fast & Furious is just a smokescreen for the real issue Mr. Leaf and his client are interested in exposing. A red herring… pickled with lots of schmaltz on some matzoh for Passover…
Big news this weekend… the box office is 79% up over last year… put ALL of your money into domestic theatrical NOW!!!
With all due respect, there have been twenty $100m openings in the history of the movies. Every one of them has been in the last 10 years. Nine of them have been in the last 3 years.
Is $153.6m (or slightly more) for the opening of The Hunger Games an amazing feat, the #3 opening ever no matter what the standard? Absolutely. But without getting into the “adjusted numbers,” which I think are bullshit rhetorically, this specific number is a product not only of the massive popularity of the books, but of the front-loading and accordioning of theatrical.
The first $50m opening weekend was in 1995. The movie was Batman Forever. This set a new standard and between 1995 and 2001, there were 17 films with opening grosses of over $50m… or 2.8 films a year.
The next big landmark was another sequel, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, which scored a $72m opening in 1997. But that was an outlier, The closest any film got to it in those six years was $68.5m for the Planet of the Apes reboot.
And then, the next big leap… 2001… Harry Potter & The Sorcerer’s Stone… from the $72m record to a $90.3m record for the first Harry Potter movie. Just a year later, another massive leap… the first Spider-Man… $114.8m.
Spider-Man was a combination of huge demand and the largest number of actual screens – not theater count – in history. Accordioning. Multiplexes, which spurred the increase in opening weekend grosses through the 90s, were now willing to expand the number of screens playing a film on opening weekend to numbers heretofore thought impossible. There might be a deal, for movies like Batman or Jurassic, where in, say, a 14 screen complex, the films would run on 4 or even 5 screens for the first couple of weekends. With Potter and Spider-Man, you might see as many as 8 or 9 screens out of 14 running these films- not necessarily during all the day’s time periods – on opening weekend.
Of course, it would be 2 years before the next $100m+ opening. Shrek 2 became not only the 2nd biggest opening of all time with $108m, but it ended up being the 2nd highest grossing domestic film ever, behind only the uber-leggy Titanic of the previous era.
A year later, 2005: Year Of The False Slump, it was the sixth Star Wars movie and for the 1st time, a second $100m opening in the same year… Potter 4.
In 2006, there were, again, two $100m openings, this time both in the same season (summer). There was also a new step up… Pirates 2 bested Spider-Man’s still-record opening of $114m by just over $21 million.
Then, in 2007, we saw the utter mastery of accordioning. The Triple Tri-quel Summer. THREE $100m+ openings in four weekends. This included Spider-Man 3 setting a new opening record with $151m… a $15m leap over Pirates 2, just the summer before. (Shrek The Third was at $121m and Pirates 3 at $115m.)
There’s never been anything quite like the Triple Tri-quel Summer before or since. Perhaps one reason for that is that none of the three films was able to parlay those openings into more than $336m domestic… which ain’t chicken feed… but a step backwards in gross for 2 of the 3 franchises. This suggested that there was a glass ceiling… not on openings, but on legs when so much franchise power was placed in one short month.
In 2008, The Dark Knight set a new record for opening… but not a shocking opening. $7m ahead of the previous summer’s Shrek 3, this was the fourth of six Batman films to open by breaking the previous record for opening weekend. The numbers seem antiquated now, 23 years after the first film broke the $40m record, truly crushing the record set just a weekend earlier by Ghostbusters II of $29.5m. Spider-Man‘s $24m leap would be of a similar proportion 13 years later.
Prior to The Dark Knight‘s massive record-breaking opening, two films in history had opened to more than $125m. In the 44 months since, there have been six… three in the last 8.5 months alone.
Thing is… none of this is easy or a gimme. I’m not saying that at all. The Hunger Games is only the third non-sequel in history to open to over $100 million. Spider-Man and Alice in Wonderland, two storied literary franchises. That’s it. Not Avatar, not Potter, not Batman, not Shrek, not Star Wars, not Transformers. So this is not a small thing.
But tribute (pun unintended) must be paid not only to the novels that spawned this craze and perhaps not at all to the movie which will find its legs in the weeks to come, but to the business practices of distributors and exhibitors that make a $150m weekend realistically possible. Personally, I don’t think front-loading is a great practice for the overall business of making and distributing and making profits on movies. But I respect the conceit that now allows for so many franchises to ring up these massive opening weekends.
I wouldn’t be remotely surprised to see The Dark Knight Rises out-open THG. No matter what, it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which TDKR doesn’t open to at least $135m, Joker or not. And Twilight: The End also seems to be in the sure over-$135m category, I don’t see any others at this level.
However, 2010 is the current record-holder for $100m openings, with four. Well, the count above is already at three. I like Amazing Spider-Man to turn that corner as well. And it is easy to forget that the last Lord of The Rings film came at a time when the highest opening number ever was still Spider-Man’s $114m. That number has now increased by a 50%. If The Hobbit can improve on Return of the King’s opening by that same 50%, that’s an $108m opening. There has never been a $100m opening in December before. But there had never been a $100m opening in November before 7 years ago. There have been 4 in those 7 years.
Again… being the third biggest domestic opening of all-time and one of just ten $120m+ domestic openings of all-time cannot and should not be an achievement that is diminished or discounted by anyone. But I believe in perspective. And giant numbers sometimes take one’s breath away. For me, a leap of 20% over the previous record – whatever that record – is breathtaking. Anything less than that, just great.
Might I also point out before I go that of the twenty $100m+ domestic openers, only THREE are in 3D. This might seem like an unfair thing to point out, as the 3D crazy is only a couple of years old. But seven openings over $100m since Avatar… and again, only three were in 3D, only Potter’s finale scoring with an open of over $117m.
There is a part of Hollywood that is now much like Broadway has been… people love musicals for which they can enter the theater humming the score. The Hunger Games is much better made than the early Twilight movies (I stopped at #2, which was #2), but it is getting the “it’s not as bad as it could have been” bounce for a piece that is still pretty by the book and tone deaf about its own content.
Dragging Jerry Lewis into this… if you call The Bellboy sophisticated, you are a moron. Skillful, yes. Sophisticated, no. The Nutty Professor also has some very broad comedy as well as some very heavy-handed drama… but it is somewhat sophisticated. Apparently, Jennifer Lawrence being the strong, balanced center of this film primarily by being Jennifer Lawrence is enough for some to see it as sophisticated… especially in combination with the next book.
But I haven’t really heard this from many people who didn’t go in humming the book. Godfather 1 it ain’t. Star Wars it ain’t. But to be fair, those were genre retreads as well, right? In both of those cases, they expanded their universe. In Hunger Games, as seems to have been the case with Twilight, this is a product aimed at a fixed universe of fans that will expand with time, but not as a percentage of the current possible audience.
And so my rant ends.
Congratulations to Lionsgate. May you be sold in 3 years because some bigger company wants to eat your library and this franchise finally causes someone to lose their mind and wildly overpay.
In other news… you’re kidding right? In the Top Ten, a 53% estimated drop was the low.
Sony Classics got The Raid: Redemption (first of a trilogy) off nicely with almost $5k per screen on 14. The film is actually a lot like Hunger Games… 20 or 30 or 50 cops go into a building, will any come out?… but in this one, the audience actually deals with death, even if it’s in a cartoonish way.
Five years ago, The Hollywood Reporter was on death watch and Variety was going in for the kill. Variety scooped up Anne Thompson and others, cockily pecking away at whatever good meat was left on a dying carcass.
Three years ago, Sharon Waxman, the hated and hacky former New York Times industry reporter, started The Wrap, with funding from Howard Schultz, amongst others, and the support of Charlie Koones, who had left his gig as Publisher of Variety a year earlier. The Wrap started off with an interesting list of former Variety staffers, but ran through most of her start-up capital and the patience of most of her veteran writers in just over a year. She got another round of financing, but has never quite overcome the failure to launch. Her strongest internet asset, the relentless and funny Joe Adalian, covering television, moved on to NY Mag’s Vulture, and since then, the only interesting element of The Wrap has been Waxman’s hustle in trying to keep it alive.
Three months after Waxman launched, Jay Penske decided to purchase and fund Nikki Finke’s LA Weekly-based psychodrama, aka Deadline Hollywood. And Nikki turned around and in one of her few shows of insight, realized that she was 2 reporters away from being a trade. In early 2010, she hired Mike Fleming, who was the highest paid reporter at Variety, and soon after, Nellie Andreeva from the Hollywood Reporter and, to this day are the trio that must generate at least 85% of the page views for Deadline. They also reportedly make more money than any triad of reporters in the business.
While Finke was hiring away Mike Fleming, Variety was erecting a paywall and firing Anne Thompson, Ben Fritz, and others (and soon after raping the budget for critics, Variety cut Todd McCarthy loose as well).
Five months later, The Hollywood Reporter hired Janice Min to resurrect the dying paper and brand.
That was just 22 months ago.
Since then, the two wannabe trades and the two long-standing trades have gone in four different directions, trying to find The Answer to a dying business model. Like most Old Media, the trades were heavily staffed, well edited, and operated on a rigid set of deadlines. People were well paid. People had health insurance and even pensions. This kind of stability and weightiness was critical to doing the most professional work. Still is.
But the evolution of the last three years brought the dirty secret of the trades to light. As competitive and intricate as the work of operating a news room that was also in the daily business of timing the news to fit the needs of sources, there wasn’t a lot of serious journalism going on at the trades. And there was very little news being broken in the entertainment business. 90%+ of what was/is being printed is not a matter of ferreting out information, but having a source with a vested interest choosing one outlet or reporter over another with whom to break the news.
And no one who wanted any of this information much cared where it came from. They just want the information as soon as it becomes available.
So do you:
A) Try to keep rolling along as though we were still in 1995?
B) Try to find a niche that is part trade/gossip and part a high-gloss insider’s Vanity Fair?
C) Sensationalize as much as possible to get someone’s attention?
D) Hire two people who have been amongst the most trusted reporters for sources to plant info with for years and then have the boss set off on a rampage of threats and lies combined with rarely adding much thought to what the sources do give you, in order to get as many people as possible to make you the first stop with info, whether out of fear or advantage?
I’m not going to even bother with a key to which of the four outlets is which. If you don’t know, I am shocked you’ve read this far.
Moving on… you now have 4 trades or wannabe trades trying to come up with new revenue streams. Variety, now hidden behind a paywall, announced that it would become the brand for entertainment industry forums and meetings, that business being better than publishing in this era. The Reporter focused on bringing high-end non-industry advertisers on board. The Wrap, after getting nowhere with ads, scaring many by being a blazing headline outlet, decided to try out the forum business also. And Deadline struggled mightily with advertising until Nikki realized what everyone else knows… the money is in awards season.
Retail shopper that she is, Nikki threw a barrel of money at Lynne Segal, who had been at The Hollywood Reporter forever before going to the LA Times and rebooting their Oscar business with an unreadable but potentially profitable pull-out section called The Envelope. It took Lynne a few minutes to get Nikki to create her own hideous print edition and to hire on Pete Hammond, a very bright, very nice, very professional friend of the industry to be their Oscar frontman. (None of Nikki’s other hires have moved the bar a millimeter.)
The Wrap followed with a bad print book of their own.
And The Hollywood Reporter, which had decided not to pander to the season with special issues and wrap-around covers soon changed their mind.
Meanwhile, Variety, still printing daily, but hidden behind a wall on the web, making whatever immediacy it was offering a non-issue, had lost its identity. The Wrap failed to ever establish one.
But Deadline, fronted by Nikki and her tabloid “Toldjas” and name-calling, had a distinct identity. And they had an increasing percentage of stories planted by publicists there first. (They call them EXCLUSIVES. I call them maize.) By dint of Nikki’s harassment and willingness to run anything that her self-motivated sources told her and the solid trade-style work of Fleming & Andreeva, Deadline not only became the top trade… it really became the only trade. If you want to know who booked a pilot or who is changing agencies, Deadline is the first and perhaps the only stop. If you want premature, ignorant, studio-written box office coverage, Deadline is there. If you want to know what the studios want the rest of the industry to think, no where better to land than Deadline.
And The Hollywood Reporter also established a real identity. They hired a lot of the best people in town and let them loose. There are various murmurs of discontent from inside, but the checks are still clearing and starting with THR, Esq, some of the brands inside of the brand have become standard bearers.
Thing is, identity and image are not objective metrics. To quote Variety guys tweeting today: “This week, Variety broke 37 film stories, Deadline broke 18, and The Hollywood Reporter got a LOT of web traffic.” I don’t doubt these numbers. But no one really cares. Of those 55 Breaking Stories this week, a grand total of, maybe, 6 that anyone really gives a damn about. Finke has done a really good job of making the idea that being first is the important metric. But it’s not. Not amongst anyone but journalists counting “scoops.” More than ever, people are looking for perspective. The information is not sacred… at all. Why? Because it’s not news… it’s publicity parsed into news. I remain respectful of Josh Dickey and his Variety team and the work they do to achieve their goals. But I still rarely see any story that anyone actually dug up. Being in touch and hearing the rumor about who is being fired or promoted and following it up… sorry… it is hard work… it does force information release at times… but it’s not really news.
Really, take Josh and 3 people of his choice and keep the brand going and they could come back and outdo Deadline and everyone else in a year. Deadline isn’t doing anything great. Bring down the paywall, Reed, and at worst, you’ll raise the price on your sell.
Conversely, I would love to see Mail.com – or whatever it’s called this month – buy Variety and to see what it’s really like to run a daily that is more than 3 people deep.
That said, the bottom line remains… none of these businesses are very good businesses. Nikki claims profitability, but people paying for her ad space have added up the numbers they know and looked at what she’s paying writers, and come up with red ink. The Reporter continues to be plagued with rumors that they are running a deficit. No one seems to know how The Wrap continues on, though they did a low-dollar deal with Reuters that no one else wanted and that has raised profile… and agita around Reuters, which has to deal with the errors that get run. And now, Variety is going to go to the bidder… maybe one of those guys on “Storage Wars.”
The bottom line is that journalism – even trade journalism – has been diminished in this era. Finke has no interest in actual journalism and her fake honesty is more dangerous than simply being an easy placement (which is one reason why she is a good person with whom to place stuff). Waxman still doesn’t understand much of anything about the industry and has pissed off a shocking number of people who used to support her in concept (though she has turned out to be a good VC wrangler… she should move forward in that career)… The Hollywood Reporter can’t afford to be a trade much longer… and Variety is a dinosaur, any way you cut it.
If you’re wondering, the LA Times has fallen back from the old days… but has got some strong writers who are still worth reading… more so than many of those mentioned above. But now they have a paywall and that will strangle their best writers in a matter of months. Again… even when they have it first or even best, it will soon be in the New York Times and THR and Deadline and all over the damned place if anyone cares. And it will be the same info over and over and over again.
And the rest of us… not really in that game. Sorry, Indiewire, but you aren’t anything close to a trade now, not even for indies. Great stuff, often. But the focus isn’t there and the range isn’t there. Three focused people can be a trade. Six unfocused blogs are not.
I guess that’s my way of saying, in the parlance of Shark Tank… I’m out.
You can neither make beautiful, great movies without risk as you can make babies without sex. Risk is part of the artistic process. That’s why I like performance, because performance is walking a high wire.
~ Francis Coppola
“Probably the most heralded movie I’ve ever been in was Forrest Gump. While I was sitting on the park bench, I asked Bob, ‘Is anyone going to care about this guy?’ He said, ‘I don’t know Tom. It’s a mine field. It’s a fucking mine field.’ So when it works, you just say, ‘We dodged all the mines.'”
~ Tom Hanks