The Hot Blog Archive for September, 2012

Weekend Estimates by DraKlady

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There are probably some two-$20m opening weekends from-one-studio weekends in history. Not many. Sony released two movies for two different demographics and did as well or better than expected with both. That is a big marketing achievement.

Building on Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs and Lion King 3D, Hotel Transylvania improved the record for “Best September Opening” by about 20%. It’s the best opening ever for Sony Animation by about 40% and has a good chance of being the first $150m film for Sony Animation… where they are probably feeling pretty good about not doing the DreamWorks Animation deal about now.

How much of this is Sandler & Co and how much is in spite of Sandler & Co? Good question. The studio really didn’t emphasize Sandler in the pitch to families. The film itself is heavy with double entendres that might have surprised some parents of younger kids this weekend.

Looper, which is stirring passion on both the positive and negative sides—more to the positive—had a very solid opening. Unless you consider the ensemble movie Red “a Bruce Willis movie,” this is Willis’ best launch as a lead this decade that doesn’t include the phrase “Die Hard.” And it’s new territory for Joseph Gordon-Levitt as well.

The stat that really jumped out at me was that the audience for Looper was, accordingly to exit polling, 70% over 25. Of course, it’s an R-rated film. But it’s not R-rated, to my eye, in a way that would make a parent of an urban 14-year-old shy about their kid seeing the movie. The under-25s are a potentially strong market going forward.

As Sony reminds, this was a FilmDistrict movie. It is their biggest opening and will be their biggest film. Sigh…

Won’t Back Down did.

And we discussed Pitch Perfect yesterday (after my initial stupidity). Nice launch… but the story is really going to be told next weekend.

Lawless has had a very quiet $36 million.

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Team Obama Mocks Mittens

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ET & Me: 2012

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Friday Estimates by Young Klady Who’s Supposed To Kill Old Klady When The Numbers Show Up

The 3D re-release of The Lion King really opened up this slot last September as a place to release animated films and Sony filled it with a fun film, Hotel Transylvania, that looks like it will out-open last year’s breakout $30.2m. The best September open ever, $35.6m for Sweet Home Alabama, seems safe. But HT could become the #2 best September launch this weekend. Yes… with the 3D bump.

Looper gives Sony a shot at having two $20m openers in the same weekend. The film, which has a lot of positive word of mouth, may well be a grower, not a show-er… though this is a pretty good launch, easily Rian Johnson’s biggest and the best for Joseph Gordon-Levitt w/o a mask or Nolan as star (GI Joe/Inception/Bat3). Assuming it passes $40m total domestic, this is really an important career film for JG-L, though that’s certainly not why he’s involved. A happy movie business story for a change.

(NOTE: I f-ed up. Mea culpa. I’ve done a complete rewrite on the Pitch Perfect stuff, thanks to two commenters who were focused when I was not.)

Pitch Perfect is platforming this weekend, a rare occurrence for a major studio movie. IN fact, the only other major to try this was Paramount with Jeff, Who Lives At Home, which went out on 254 screens and totaled $4.3m domestic. PP should pass that total this weekend. Last year, again it was Paramount, with an IMAX only week for M:I Ghost Protocol on 425 screens. Nothing close to this kind of sampling open in 2010. In other words, this is very rare.

But rare doesn’t mean that a new idea can’t work. It’s just a gamble.

They’re looking at a weekend with $15k per screen in 335 venues. What does that translate to when they go wide next weekend, against Taken 2, which has a strong female appeal for an action movie? Good question.

Obviously, the studio knows they have a movie that plays better than it sells. And so, they will get a sample crowd this weekend of about half a million and hope that word-of-mouth still works. They should go into the expansion next weekend with around $7m in the bank and hope to do double that number (or better) over the next 3-day and go into the third weekend with about $27 million in the till on the way to $50m – $60m total domestic.

The one big advantage U has going into October is that there is almost nothing in October for teen girls. They may go in for Frankenweenie a bit and the aforementioned Taken 2… and Argo should be a general audience hit, but this will be the only “girl film” in the market for a long stretch. So we’ll see…

Last but least amongst the new is Won’t Back Down. I didn’t see it. I wasn’t invited to see it. Doesn’t look like anyone was much invited to see it… in a broader sense. Maggie & Viola in Sister’s Are Doing It For Themselves: The Movie seems like almost too obvious a pitch. A true Awards Bait Or Doesn’t Rate movie, it looks like from here.

You know, it’s funny. There is endless whining from some quarters about the status of female filmmakers, movies for women, and movies about women. Here is a weekend with two… and not much to show for it. And you know what? It would be as stupid to discount the female audience and films made for and by them because of this as it is to scream and kick and claim that the film industry is anti-woman.

These films will not help the next person walking into an executive suite pitching a film about women… same as the sad failure of Bachelorette to get to $1m domestic after opening on VOD will encourage people to believe the unrealistic prayer that VOD promotes theatrical. (For the record, I still believe, strongly, that Bachelorette, given an aggressive release as a normal theatrical, by Universal or a couple others, would have done $40m or more theatrically as a hard-R late summer alternative. But no one would buy it for that. And Sundance helped keep this commercial film – way funnier than Horrible Bosses – in the ghetto.)

BUT… every movie has its own journey. And the right movies about or for women do extraordinarily well in the marketplace. It’s not black or white.

The Master is hanging onto the Top 10 for dear life, now losing venues. It’s still in 783 venues. But if you want to get a sense of the trajectory, two weekends ago the film was on 5 screens, including The Dome, at the Arclight Hollywood… and is now on 2. It’s still a strong draw for the impassioned. But with just over $1000 per venue last night, we have already seen the peak. Should PTA have put control of distribution and marketing more in the hands of Harvey Weinstein or should Harvey have let PTA have his way with a slower, even more selective release? Impossible to know, in terms of the outcome. God knows, they got everything out of the press that was ever going to come. Was there ever more than a $20m domestic gross in the movie? Who knows? But we can all be happy that Megan Ellison was willing to write the check and that PTA continues to deliver demanding filmmaking, made inside of the American market, with real budgets that put all the money on the screen.

October is looking like a boom month. Taken 2 smells of cash… the same exact sales pitch still effective years later with what looks like a frame -by-frame remake with a wife stitched in. Frankenweenie should open to similar numbers as Transylvania. Argo is a hit movie, heading to a very nice gross if not a mega-opening. Paranormal 4 and Silent Hill 3D will bring bucks. And Cloud Atlas is going to have a lot of lookie-loos, especially from GeekLand.

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Review: Life of Pi

My problem with Life of Pi is simple.

It’s a piece of high art, tethered to earth in the desire to be accessible and PG-safe. It’s also an earthly big studio effects show, unable to entertain wildly enough to overcome the simplicity of the story as it rolls out and the unavoidable stench of death that hangs over the tale.

I sat in the film, completely open to all of the elements of the film. Ang Lee, check. Irrfan Khan, check. Fantastical journey story, check. Spiritual enlightenment, check. One man confronts his soul, check. The elements had me at, “Hello.”

But it never came together for me. Truly not for a minute.

The story, as offered from the first frames, is of a middle aged man telling his story to a reporter who has been sent to hear a great tale of a life’s journey. The movie is almost all a flashback, essentially. He tells the reporter the story of his youth, taking about 30 minutes before going on the boat journey that leads to the teen boy on the boat in the ocean that you’ve seen in all the ads.

I’m going to tell you one story that occurs in the first act that, for me, explains why this movie simply doesn’t work. I don’t think is a spoiler, but if you are especially sensitive to any story details, don’t read the next three paragraphs…

The family owns a zoo. And the pre-teen Pi is experimenting, wanting to see the tiger eat raw meat close up… to feed the tiger, really. When his father finds out, he is enraged about the lack of respect the boy is showing a wild – albeit caged – creature. And to show him the brutality of nature, he feeds the tiger a live goat… live and tied outside of the cage… until the tiger pulls it through the slits of the gate and carries it away.

And here is my problem with this film. The father, over the mother’s protests, is going to make the boy face this brutality… this reality. And what does the film do? It cuts away. Goat on the outside of the cage frightened, tiger coming for it, reaction shot of the family, tiger, half way down the hallway, dragging the goat, but without any blood or such ugliness.

Thanks for sparing us the lesson. But why would I care about the lesson the boy is having if I am not having a lesson that is emotionally as weighty? Movies have cut away from violence forever, but this is not Bambi. It’s not like we have an emotional stake in that goat. It’s not the boy’s personal pet. It’s just a goat that was going to be be lunch for the tiger one day.

For me. that disconnect from raw, honest emotion amongst the beautiful, fantasized pictures is what is lacking utterly in this film. The most disappointing inclination to stay away from the harsh reality of life is in the third act, which I won’t explain for sake of spoilage. But the audience is treated like an 12-year-old going to see their first R rated movie with mom and dad, being walked out of the theater when things get “too rough.”

I can live with the ol’ “train going through the tunnel” cutaway. But not in a movie that is about the complexity of dealing with your first sexual encounters. I don’t need or want a soft-core or hard-core porn film either. But a movie like The Graduate – sticking to the sex example – managed to express great discomfort and even anger in a sexual encounter without being explicit visually. The shot through Anne Bancroft’s bent leg has become iconic and simplified by that status, but in the life of that movie – still! – you still get a ton of personal politics condensed down into a couple of powerful minutes. Blood is drawn, even without seeing Hoffman’s butt bobbing up and down in and out of frame. (We’ll save that for the McG remake.)

So there are artful ways to smack the audience across the face with some hard reality, without being graphic. But this film cuts away emotionally as well as visually.

I made fun of Heath Ledger licking his fingers in Brokeback Mountain for years… but I have to say, the act of bravery in that choice, as directed and edited by Ang Lee, is profound as an act of filmmaking… like the Anne Hathaway sex scene, a big, bloody mouthful of reality in an otherwise very restrained piece.

But I digress…

The clear comparison to Life of Pi is to Robert Zemeckis’ Cast Away, which, ironically, I sat in a Fox screening room alone to watch all those years ago. That was a movie that made people cry over a volleyball. This is a movie that pulls almost every punch.

The thing about Ang Lee, who I believe is masterful filmmaker, is that he makes films about repressed emotion. This film is about that too. But for me, that is not what the heart of this story is. It is about the human mind and spirit and for all of its talk of religion, about as anti-organized-religion as you can get. But spirituality doesn’t soar unless you are completely clear (no Scientology reference intended). And clarity requires both the good and the bad. Repressing one does not illuminate the other.

Weir… Aronofsky… Herzog… Schnabel… Boyle… Assayas… Demme… so many filmmakers who wouldn’t have flinched from the hard stuff. They have walked this walk. And there are others who would have made the fantasia that much more powerful, starting with Malick.

Behn Zeitlin, by the way, made a movie just this year that doesn’t declare its themes nearly as specifically, but is very, very similar to the material here, in Beasts of the Southern Wild… and is a much, much better, more interesting movie.

None of those versions of this would be as easy to sell.

But they might have been great art.

I don’t want to piss on anyone’s birthday cake, but I don’t have high expectations for this film, commercially or in terms of awards. I expect the ambivalent reaction that many have had to The Master, but without the “but obviously the guy is a genius” part.

Ang Lee is so talented… but man, what he could be if he just let his freak flag fly.

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DP/30: Hotel Transylvania, director Genndy Tartakovsky

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The Variety Thing

It was interesting to read Anne Thompson ‘s take on the increasingly likely – though not sure – purchase of Variety by Jay Penske. But I think Anne is a little confused.

None of these businesses are what would be considered Good Businesses. Not Variety. Not The Hollywood Reporter. Not Deadline.

And buying Variety makes less sense for Penske Media than pretty much any buyer. While Nikki Finke has exposed proven with Deadline that you can acquire pretty much all the “news” out there with, literally, a handful of professionals, how does one value Variety moving forward? Penske can eliminate one competitor for ad dollars… but that’s not how things actually work in the Oscar and Emmy games (aka, the dominant revenue driver of all of these businesses). Those ad dollars will be, at first, redirected, and within a season, eliminated from budgets.

A number of the major players have already decided that the $50k – $125k trade covers that made both trades so profitable for years are just not worth the money. Sales for Deadline’s Oscar Specials, which have the editorial value of 8x10s and one purpose alone – selling ads – continue… but not because they are any more effective as Direct Mail to Oscar voters than the trades are, but because controlling Nikki continues to be a priority for studios. but every indication is that Nikki’s peceived power and ability to manipulate The Bosses is sliding, not growing. To all things, there is a red line. And the notion that Penske can take a second bite of the same apple by buying Variety is not realistic… especially when the sales he has are not based on a straight purchase by the buyers, but one pushed heavily by one person.

Nikki will, to be fair, scream endlessly about how she maintains church and state. Acknowledged. But if you ask anyone who actually deals with her… Nikki is the horn of Jericho, not the wall.

And what of the actual operation of Variety? Penske has other online operations that Nikki does not control. But again, talk to the people working in that circle and you will find that Finke overreaches, as dramtically at in-house editors as with studio folks, often. She is a turf monster. But she’s never in front of any of her writers. So, who runs Variety if Nikki doesn’t try to do so? Who is willing to be put in that position? I don’t know that anyone can turn down a paycheck these days… but many people have either left Deadline or refused to take lucrative offers from Deadline for one reason only. Nikki Finke.

There is a clear class system built into Nikki’s style of management. If you are named Mike or Nellie or Pete, you get incredibly well paid and Nikki licks your ass like you were a studio president. If you are not, you are a fucking peon. If you actually clash with Nikki in a real way, you are Lynne Segall, roasted in public on your way out after you created the structure that kept the organization from going bankrupt.

There is an interesting phenomenon that has occurred, which is that long-standing relationships, especially with Mike Fleming, give executives cover in choosing to go our first on stories with Deadline, in spite of a lot of bitterness towards Nikki. “Why penalize Mike (or Pete or Nellie)?” is something one hears more and more. This suggests that Deadline/Variety could operate successfully without Nikki spraying her scent over the whole thing. But you wouldn’t try to lock a rabid, angry cat alone in a room of drapes and upholstered furniture and not expect some serious damage.

But back to the bigger picture… there isn’t room for Oscar spending as it is lovingly remembered for both The Hollywood Reporter, Variety, LA Times, Deadline, and the rest of us RIGHT NOW… and that is with Variety operating on relative fumes. What would make anyone think that the cutbacks on spending in this industry are going to be reinstated?

The Recession may be coming to an end. But the film business has a New Normal and there is no revenue driver in sight that will change that. This is an industry that operates out of habit and any change in habit is agonizing for people… I mean, bloody, ugly, rageful pain. And nowhere is this more true than in the Oscar business… which again, is the primary revenue model for all of these trade-focused businesses.

Oscar marketers are looking for voters eyeballs. Period. They need to be pushed to see the movies, inspired to vote for the movies and performances and achievements, and in the top categories, given a good feeling about ticking off that box. How does media fit into this?

I honestly don’t think that any of the buyers really know. Because of the age of The Academy membership, newer tools are not as attractive as they are for, say, marketing to 20soemthings and 30 somethings. Academy members have become more online savvy, no doubt, and The Academy is banking on that with this year’s experiment with online voting, but the comfort zone remains, first, personal contact (no media needed) and then a physical presence… that means print.

And then, of course, the rest of the stuff is out there… and anyone who grabs a piece of turf tries desperately to hold on to it and build on it… for instance, insistence on talent exclusivity when talent exclusivity seems absurd.

It’s not as though The Hollywood Reporter, which has been revived as a brand, is making a lot of money. Some will tell you that they are losing money. Some will tell you that they are losing a lot of money. I don’t know. I am not running their books. Janice Min has taken that trade almost exactly where I thought they should go – down to specific hires – since before they hired her. But they are still stuck between two worlds, not quite a consumer glossy with special Hollywood access and not quite a trade. If they don’t pick, I think they eventually go away again… and the trade choice is not the logical one.

And I am not counting Jay Penske’s money. If he wants to throw $30 million at owning a brand that he has no idea how to leverage profitably, God bless him. I hope that some good people get to keep their jobs for another year or five. But the only potentially good financial outcome would come from cutting way back on the operation of Variety and leveraging the brand as best possible. You can’t spend like a daily newspaper and survive 12 months a year in this game. Just can’t. And the trend line is severely against success.

Some Variety staffers have created a “Scoops Scoreboard” and it tells you everything you need to know about this business of covering this business. They determined, “CRITERIA: Movie-related exclusives only (no agency signings, no “first” box-office numbers, etc.).” Okay. I would cut deeper. in the week of 9/24, they list 20 scoops between the three trades. If you choose to, as I do, remove all the announcements of project or hires of talent for projects, there are just 5 scoops. And if you remove things that would be announced by press release, but went to one of the trades first by choice, there is just one story that is really (my feeling) reported… and that’s on a potential legal fight over people parking on future movie title URLs.

I know that my friends and not-friends at the trades work hard. I know that there is real sweat and effort and follow-up and writing involved with these “scoops.” But come on, this is a press release driven business. Period. Those press releases may not be press releases. But if you look at any of these outlets, 95%-plus of what runs is there because someone has a vested interest in that information being publicized. This is not brain surgery and I am not exposing the Wizard. The standard for success has been being the place and/or person who gets this promotional information first. That is a “scoop” in the film business. Personal relationships and the value attached to where you will place this promotional information leads to more (or less) information coming your way. It’s that simple and that complex.

It sounds horrible, but the truth is that the tabloids function much more seriously as places of journalism than Hollywood’s trades. Even if they are breaking lies, they have to be much more aggressive about shaping and sourcing their stories. There are some very smart and very thoughtful people writing for the trades and major papers and even for Deadline. There are also a bunch of complete hacks who coast based on working for a brand that few people will choose to challenge in public.

Can anyone change this when they buy Variety? Is there an answer to what it has been and what it hopes to be?

People talk a lot about Variety (and others) mocking the internet before being taken down by the internet. But I am one of those who had hands on contact with Variety when they were quite serious about figuring out the web. And my experience was that the math simply didn’t work for them… though this was when they still aspired to maintaining the old-school newsroom-driven business they had been in for so long. but the only math that does work is to bring the cost of infrastructure down. That means people. That means the amount of print. That’s not a happy answer. That’s just math.

Why would Craigslist buy Village Voice Media? They wouldn’t. It’s not good business. It makes no sense.

So what would Jay Penske do with Variety if he got it? Long view… he and his $30m would get sucked into the quicksand, same as anyone else. Thing is, he has enough money that there is a beautiful world with plenty of room to play and cocktails and not much pain to his ego underneath that bog. Happy days.

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Trailering Firth/Rickman/Diaz/Coens/Hoffman “Gambit”

Michael Hoffman is one of the few American directors who actually knows how to shoot a farce. The Coens certainly know how to write one. Is this going to be the True Romance-type match-up that creates a “forever” movie? We’ll see…

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Andrew Sullivan’s Mental Health Break

He runs these daily… I liked the one today enough to find it’s predecessor as well…

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DP/30: Passion, screenwriter/director Brian DePalma

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BYOB 092412

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The Hot Blog

Quote Unquotesee all »

“I am just grateful I am still around. I would love to be Steven Soderbergh, but I am lucky to be Joe Swanberg. Actors want to work with me, people want to give me money, and my nightmare scenario remains: Getting in bed with a studio, spending years on a movie, and it turns out horrible, but now I’m rich.”

Actually, by Hollywood standards, you’re right, I said. That is unambitious.

“It is, and yet, if you can go to bed happy at night, doing what you want, isn’t that ambition for a lifetime?”
~ Swanberg On Swanberg By Borelli

“In retrospect, nothing of that kind surprised me about Philip, because his intuition was luminous from the instant you met him. So was his intelligence. A lot of actors act intelligent, but Philip was the real thing: a shining, artistic polymath with an intelligence that came at you like a pair of headlights and enveloped you from the moment he grabbed your hand, put a huge arm round your neck and shoved a cheek against yours; or if the mood took him, hugged you to him like a big, pudgy schoolboy, then stood and beamed at you while he took stock of the effect.”
John le Carré on Philip Seymour Hoffman