“Let me try and be as direct as I possibly can with you on this. There was no relationship to repair. I didn’t intend for Harvey to buy and release The Immigrant – I thought it was a terrible idea. And I didn’t think he would want the film, and I didn’t think he would like the film. He bought the film without me knowing! He bought it from the equity people who raised the money for me in the States. And I told them it was a terrible idea, but I had no say over the matter. So they sold it to him without my say-so, and with me thinking it was a terrible idea. I was completely correct, but I couldn’t do anything about it. It was not my preference, it was not my choice, I did not want that to happen, I have no relationship with Harvey. So, it’s not like I repaired some relationship, then he screwed me again, and I’m an idiot for trusting him twice! Like I say, you try to distance yourself as much as possible from the immediate response to a movie. With The Immigrant I had final cut. So he knew he couldn’t make me change it. But he applied all the pressure he could, including shelving the film.”
~ James Gray
The Hot Blog Archive for March, 2015
We’re all used to sequels, remakes, reboots, rehashes, reruns in the summer. But as a 50-year-old man, this summer strikes me as not only being the same old, same old, but a full-on parade of films coming directly from the imaginations (or lack thereof) of people my age, give or take a few years.
There are three tiers to this celebration of middle age. Going farthest back, Tier One is made up of films made from TV shows that We grew on back when there were 3 networks and no more than 4 or 5 active VHF channels in most cities. Mission: Impossible 5 and The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
Tier Two is the direct track… actual sequels, reboots or relaunches of films from the 1980s and 1990s – Mad Max, Poltergeist, The Terminator, Jurassic Park.
Tier Three is very, very familiar homage, represented by Straight Outta Compton, Pixels, Pan, Dope, and Tomorrowland.
I think 11 actually is a trend.
But mostly, it’s timing. 20 and 30 years later, everything old is new again… plus, for those of us for whom it is actually old, there is built-in love.
You can expect a lot of writing about retreads. How harsh it gets – or doesn’t – will end up being based on the box office. Even film critics eventually submit to peer pressure.
But I would argue – and often do – that at over a hundred years old, it is now time to show the respect to cinema as a mature art form, as we do literature and theater, where reproduction, recycling, and homage are the norm.
Yes, there is a need for The New. And as summer will tend to bring out in studios, even The New may end up being rather familiar. This summer, new-ish product includes franchise or potential franchises like The Marvel Universe, Pitch Perfect, Insidious, Spy, The Transporter, Ted, Magic Mike, Despicable Me, the Amy Schumer Universe in Trainwreck, The John Green Universe. Only the last two are truly “new,” even if there has already been a John Green-based hit. Still, all of these have launched (or come of age, as Marvel has, in the CG era) during this millennium… the last 15 years.
I am excited for some of the movies referenced in the last paragraph. But I am more excited about reliving the first blush of my adult-ish movie love. I remember where I was when I saw Mad Max (AMC Omni, Miami), The Road Warrior (Mann Plaza, Westwood), Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (Loew’s 84th, NYC), Poltergeist (170th St Theater, Sunny Isles), The Terminator (HBO), Terminator 2 (Cinerama Dome, LA), Jurassic Park (McClurg Court, Chicago).
And I will remember where I saw Ghostbusters (and that they shot around the corner from me in NYC where they built those fake cracked streets) when it is remade. Then the Michael Fassbender remake of Tootsie will remind me of another theater. Then, the new Rocky. And Conan. And The Toy. And Tron. There was a bad remake of Trading Places with Get Hard this last week. When will we get Zach Galifianakis as Mr. Mom? And the ultimate meta-kitsch… a remake of the self-reflective classic, The Big Chill?
But this summer is the first giant wave of my movie coming-of-age crashing on the shore of my middle age.
Tomorrowland screams 80s Spielberg to me. Dope feels like a modern response to Car Wash. Pan is the latest spin on Peter and Hook. Pixels seems like a straight up rip-off of Ghostbusters with a Wreck It Ralph twist. And Straight Outta Compton looks like it’s going to be a piece of “our” personal recent history… a Boyz In The Hood (1991) meets The Blues Brothers.
I was a little kid when I stayed up after my bedtime to watch “Mission: Impossible” on TV. And “Man From U.N.C.L.E.” was a fave in UHF reruns, between “The Saint” and “The Prisoner.”
There are youngsters (under 30s) who know these films from DVD or cable or whatever and are excited about the return. But most audiences under 20 will truly be being sold this product for the first time. Or they will be force-fed older versions in anticipation of the new ones… but the new ones will be “theirs,” just as the first three Star Wars films belong to one generation and the second three another.
I have to admit… I am kinda excited. I want to feel the sheer joy that I felt all those years ago, the first time around. Really, that’s what I want to feel every time I watch a movie.
But déjà vu and joy together? So looking forward to it…
Not a whole lot to add since yesterday.
Estimates for Home are running stronger than Friday suggested, which may be a sign that the film plays a little young… but it’s Fox’s best DreamWorks Animation opening to date and a happy weekend for Katzenberg, even though this doesn’t appear to be a game-changer after the DWA troubles of the last few years.
Get Hard hammocks right in between The Other Guys and Blades of Glory (less than 5% in either direction) as Will Ferrell’s #4 live-action opening. The ongoing question will be how much of the opening came with Kevin Hart and how well will the combination of his and Ferrell’s audience hold.
Radius and parent Weinstein Co. pushed It Follows out into 1218 theaters and got a result that is great for a VOD film that didn’t have much marketing and is iffy for a proper theatrical release. There has been some spending on TV ads, but I don’t know the budget. That said, it looks like the film can pass $10 million in domestic theatrical before going to its delayed VOD and will more than double the #2 theatrical gross in Radius’ three-year history.
For those who want to argue that day-n-date VOD is great – and it is, for the right films – the claim is always, “It never would have done big business in a regular theatrical release.” Obviously, all any of us can do is speculate. But of Radius’ 28 releases so far, I have argued only that three titles would have been much more successful in more traditional release: It Follows, Snowpiercer, and Bachelorette. Each of the films has a clear, marketable point of view. Two of them have strong reviews, aka support from the media. And there are plenty of comps suggesting that solid, highly profitable theatrical releases were possible for each of them.
Specifically, as regards It Follows, it seems to me a reach to suggest that in light of female-audience-driven horror having had great success over the years, that the film could not have done in excess of $35 million in theatrical and as much as $70 million. Part of what is a pleasure in the movie is that David Robert Mitchell took familiar genre elements and turned them on their head… but leaving plenty of material that could be utilized for a strong TV push. As for Snowpiercer, do people really think it could not have done John Wick money (or better)? And I would still argue that in light of both Bridesmaids and The Hangover series, Leslye Headland’s film could have easily been an $80m+ theatrical grosser.
Clearly, some feel otherwise. It is all conjecture, on both sides. But one thing is crystal clear. Day-n-Date VOD has a glass ceiling. If $10m or less is a happy goal for a film, all in, it is great. Ad costs are minimal. Returns on gross sales are much better. Less risk. Wide distribution. All good. But if your aspirations are $20m or higher, it is not your delivery method. There is nothing wrong with this… just knowing your tools.
The VOD dream is not new. Pay-per-view has been a dream of movie distributors for decades now. And it’s never fulfilled those dreams. It’s not worthless. There is money there. And yes, if you put Harry Potter 9 on day-n-date VOD, the numbers would be staggering. But there is not a chance in hell that Disney would put Avengers 2 into day-n-date. Windows maximize their revenues. And they know it. But that is the trick. Of course windows work great for Avengers… because the profile is massive. With a popular product, it obviously makes sense to sell it four times instead of only two. It’s the tweeners, even on a studio level, that are difficult… which is why studios don’t want to make tweeners… no one wants to lose their job on a shoulder-shrugger.
There is a way for more experimentation and smart plays with VOD and theatrical. But studios have to be willing to make concessions to theater owners to make it work. Day-n-date is a mirage for the most part, when you take all revenues into account. The studios, four of six of which are owned by non-entertainment corporations, are as interesting in minimizing risk as maximizing profits. So the exhibitors know that if they allow the door to open, the economics of their business change, and if VOD ate, say, 20% of their overall business, many theaters would have to close their doors. And if that is the future, that is the future. But there is a very good chance – I would say a nearly sure bet – that theatrical revenues will not only be important to the future of cinema, but that it will be increasingly important as we continue into the digital future. And if, say, over a six-year period, we lost 40% of our theatrical screens, they become a sinkhole that could not be easily re-filled.
I would love to see a full-scale experiment for a year or two in which the exhibitors participated with the major studios in testing day-n-date for a set number of releases. Maybe the results would suggest that theatrical is destined for a niche position. Maybe the opposite (my belief). But at least there would be a way to measure consumer responsiveness, which could then allow a response to develop. As it is now, it’s Mutual Assured Destruction, which is, indeed, MAD.
While We’re Young was the big exclusive release of the weekend with an estimated $56k per screen on 4 for $220,000. This is just a little less impressive than A24’s highest grosser, Spring Breakers. And given that Noah Baumbach’s best career domestic gross is $7.4 million, there is a good chance this will be his biggest film.
Also looking strong in exclusive release are two documentaries, Vietnam doc Ride The Thunder with $22k per on 1, and Wim Wenders’ photographer bio, The Salt of The Earth, with $11k on 4.
About 10,000 people went to go see Serena, the Jennifer Lawrence/Bradley Cooper-starrer that couldn’t get a distributor for over a year.
And it bears mention again… Still Alice is the biggest grosser for Sony Classics, aside from two of the Woody Allen movies, since Capote, a decade ago. Tough subject, female lead, not much for under 30s, Best Actress but not Best Picture… doing bang-up business in theatrical for SPC. It’s not The Imitation Game, but it is a major indie hit.
Lots of happy stories at the box office this weekend… for a change. That is to say, not just one movie having a story to tell and everything else looking weak.
Home has a good chance of being DreamWorks Animation’s best opening since it moved to Fox a couple years ago and the third best non-sequel opener in the history of the company. No, it doesn’t look like the next Shrek, but a solid success on the heels of last summer’s solid success with Dragon 2 and Jeffrey Katzenberg may get some sleep this weekend.
After this weekend, three of the top five openings of 2015 will have targeted children (Spongebob, Cinderella, Home). I look forward to the New York Times expose on how the market has shifted away from its new focus on women – this week’s crap analysis – to children. I know that it is frustrating to perceive a lack of interest in women in the film industry, but it should not cloud our minds and send us down the road of making up misleading stats. Hollywood has always had a strong interest in the female audience and, like all other audiences, exploiting it. You can be sure that if Screen Gems had It Follows, they would have opened it to over $20 million by targeting the strong female horror audience that has driven many of Screen Gems’ biggest hits. The New York Times leaned on the lame “it’s cyclical” thing to cover their ass with a lot of bad reporting on their “women in charge” story. But the cycle is Disney targeting balancing their male lean starting back with the femme re-build on Tangled in 2010. Alice, Oz, and of course, most profoundly Frozen have all come since. Insurgent is just a copy of the 7-year-old Twilight franchise. And 50 Shades is its own thing. As for why boys aren’t coming to the box office in huge numbers early this year, poking at two delayed-because-they-were-trouble films (Jupiter Ascending and Chappie) is closer to a lie than disingenuous, especially while avoiding the surprise male-driven success of Kingsman: The Secret Service and the sexually ambiguous Spongebob.
Enough about that… though I did see an editor discussing Brooks Barnes’ absurd article on CBS this morning and it occurred to me that the editor, who seems to think that the article made any sense at all, might be the problem. (Amusingly, the movie fan co-anchor chewed up some of the NYT BS in a cheerful, unintentional way… just by knowing a little bit about movies.)
Meanwhile, Get Hard‘s opening is nothing to sneeze at. After some wildly over-the-top political correctness came out of the film’s SXSW premiere, Warner Bros actively avoided addressing the issue and as a result, it dies quickly. It may not be the most honest play, but it worked. This $12.8m opening day is the third-best of Will Ferrell’s live-action career. And yes, Kevin Hart certainly is a big part of that success. But Ice Cube-led Ride Along is the only film of Hart’s to open as well, with Think Like A Man coming close. But to be in the position to be wondering which actor deserves more credit for this opening is a good place to be.
Insurgent is doing okay. Won’t match Divergent, which was a bit soft. Keep those talks with the company-buying suckers… uh, Chinese… going.
Cinderella will come in well behind the other Disney live-action adaptations, but it also seems to have cost a lot less, so…
Kingsman: The Secret Service has hit $300 million worldwide. I don’t know if it will ever play China, but if it doesn’t it will be a hugely popular illegal DVD, as it is really a kind of modern chopsocky picture, albeit with more weapons. But a lot of balletic violence should be very popular in the Far East. (The film does not seem to have opened Japan either.)
Expanding well is It Follows, which no longer has day-n-date VOD following it and trying to murder its financial prospects (did Harvey have to have sex with someone to make that happen?). I believe strongly that day-n-date VOD has a place that matters to the smallest indies. But I don’t know how anyone can argue that it doesn’t create a glass ceiling for theatrical. It Follows will likely be Radius’ highest theatrical grosser EVER by the end of this weekend, passing Oscar-winning doc 20 Feet From Stardom. But frankly, it is still underperforming what was possible had it been positioned as a straight theatrical months before its release, with a full and proper theatrical campaign. I’m talking $40m – $50m theatrical, minimum.
Also doing nicely in its debut is While We’re Young from Noah Baumbach, released by A24. It should end the weekend with between $40-45k per screen.
The Salt of the Earth, the Oscar-nominated Wim Wenders doc, will also close in on $10k per screen this weekend.
The grass always seems greener on the other side. But it is not always the case. In the case of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, it is a sad story of insecurity, fear, oversized yet easily bruised ego, and a lack of perspective on itself.
With due respect to a very bright and talented person, it started with the hiring of Dawn Hudson, whose top achievement was The Independent Spirit Awards, which has bounced around time slots, live shows, taped shows, locations, etc for years with an ever-declining significance, mostly because it become a faint echo of The Oscars a day before The Oscars. When it really was just a great cocktail and social event on the beach for the indie world – and it is still that, in part – the organization and Dawn were fast risers on the scene. By the time Ms. Hudson left, the show had reached an uncomfortable, awkward middle age, losing much of the luster she had worked so hard to build.
So who does The Academy, whose #1 priority is that TV show that pays all the bills, hire? The person with a show on the down-slope with a rather narrow view of the movie world.
And what Dawn has brought to The Academy, skilled as she is at many things, is that anxiety of the climber. Since her arrival, The Academy, perhaps the most stable and boring of all Hollywood institutions for decades under a politburo lead by Bruce Davis, Leslie Unger, and others, has become a constant work-in-progress… that just keeps losing footing in its desperation to climb.
Dear Academy… you are the golden gods… you are the kings of all award shows… you are the pinnacle of careers. Perhaps it is time to start acting like the home run hitter rather than the kid who is scared of being picked last for the kickball game even though you own the ball and the field.
And I have news for you. You can throw yourself, publicity-istically, on the pyre of Political Correctness all you like, but even adding 100 annual new members who would not normally qualify to become Academy members, the Academy is going to be white in the vast majority for many years to come and statistically dominated by men for not quite as long, but for a while. And if The Academy is going to remain above the rest of the groups, the average age will be “Old” forever. If more than 10% of The Academy is under 40 at any time, The Academy starts to become a joke. This organization has built its reputation – deserved or not… I will leave that to others to endlessly whine about – on the veteran status of its members. Yes, there is some under-40 talent out there that deserves a place at the table. Almost all of those are actors.
But here is the note… Jay Duplass is already 42. Mark Duplass turns 40 next year. I think they make a pretty fair tipping point. Not The Puffy Chair at 30. But multiple movies a year as producers, writers, and actors? They have come of age. Maybe next year. Maybe the year after. But they have accomplished enough to be taken seriously as potential Academy members. Make sense?
The annual drama around each telecast is, to say the least, idiotic. The ratings go up a little. The ratings go down a little. You remain on top of the heap. The Grammys made their run at The Oscars. But they have fallen back. And they have a huge built-in advantage. They have turned their award show into a 3-hour concert starring the top musical performers in the world. Music performance is a mega-business and people will tune in for one-of-a-kind moments like that. But sorry, Oscar… you can’t emulate that because film is not a live performance medium. So get over it already.
There are two issues that are very controversial within The Industry, though most civilians could not care less… or don’t know that they care because its all subtext. The Voting Process and The Date of The Show.
Even within The Industry and within the sliver of industry watchers called Oscar Writers, there is plenty of debate on both of these issues. And to be completely fair, the significance of both is utterly subjective. Personally, my position on both issues is about consumer/civilian benefit. I believe in Oscar – although it has become a media obscenity on many levels – and I want the show and the honor to not only survive, but thrive. And I believe that transparency – even fake transparency – on these issues allows the conversation for civilians to become about the show and the movies and not constant debate over minutiae.
The are two outstanding issues about voting. Should there be 10 nominees or 5 and should there be a simpler voting system that doesn’t require endless explaining every season that still doesn’t stick for 99% of people you ask (including Oscar writers)?
My position, regardless of the number of nominees, there should simply be weighted voting of each voter’s Top 3 choices for Best Picture. Very, very simple. This balances out the (irrational) fear of 10%+1 or even 20%+1 winning over films that are more widely popular. If someone chooses not to vote for 3 then their vote for picture is eliminated. Period. No shenanigans. I am not a supporter of any system designed to get to a 50%+1 winner because it has a legitimate chance of devaluing passion. But I agree that just picking a #1, especially with a wider field, can be problematic.
As for the question of 10 nominees or 5, I should say that I do not support, like, find interesting, or condone the current middle ground in which the number floats depending on the math between 5 and 10 nominees. This is not something fans can rely on. It is a distraction with no upside. If you are good with more than 5, just settle on 10 and let it be.
And I have become a fan of the 10 nominee system over time. Initially, I was against it, fearful that it would, in fact, be manipulated into embarrassing choices as nominees. But that is, factually, not what has happened. The first year of the expanded list was, by far, the most commercial of the six years to date. A big part of that was Avatar‘s massive gross sitting atop the chart. The 10 films that year averaged $151m before nomination and $170m per in final domestic gross. This year, it was $26m per film before nomination and $83m in the end. I believe that is the low for pre-nomination gross in the modern history of Oscar, with 5 nominees or 10 or in between. Of course, the post-award totals were skewed mightily by the massive success of American Sniper and were not a record low at all.
How do you interpret these stats? Again, all opinion on every side. Some would say that the low average gross at the time of nomination was bad for The Academy and left the Oscar show with a pool of films that didn’t draw an audience. Others (like myself) would say that this shows that discrimination about gross has finally been left behind by Academy members and they are picking their favorites in a more honest way and that this benefits the power and legitimacy of The Oscars in the short and long run.
How about this? When Crash won in 2005, it was the lowest grossing winner since 1987’s The Last Emperor. But it still was in the unintentional tradition of one of the top two grossers of each Best Picture field winning. In the 20 years prior to Crash, only twice had the Best Picture winner not been amongst the top two domestic grossers in the BP field by the time the dust settled (Last Emperor and American Beauty, which couldn’t catch up to The Sixth Sense or The Green Mile). The Departed, No Country For Old Men, and Slumdog Millionaire, the three films with just 5 nominees after Crash, also followed in the two two tradition.
And then came the first year of ten nominees and The Hurt Locker, which was #8 domestic grosser amongst the 10 nominees. Eighth of ten, Like The Last Emperor was fourth of five, so not a singularity. But a very rare event. Was it a fluke?
Well, the next season, The King’s Speech took us back to the old “top two” stat, essentially, by being the #4 domestic grosser amongst 10 nominees. But then The Artist was #7 of 9 nominees. Argo returned to “top four,” though in a field of nine, so a little less successful, statistically, than the old “top two.” 12 Years A Slave, which was attacked pre-release by The New York Times for having potential awards problems because of anticipated low grosses, was #5 of 9. And this last season, Birdman was #5 of 8 Best Picture nominees.
So in four of the six seasons with more than 5 Best Picture nominees, a film won from the lower half of the list of domestic grossers, when this had happened only once in the 24 seasons of 5 BP nominees before (American Beauty was #3, putting it dead center).
For me, this statistical reality, combined with the many strong movies that have gotten the opportunity to be nominated for Best Picture, make me a strong proponent of the 10 Best Picture nominee system.
Next… The date of the show.
This one is a no-brainer to me. Earlier. The only reason to give out awards for the last year’s movies a full two months (or more) after the end of the year is the claim that the show couldn’t be put together quickly enough to manage the transition. But I say, “BS to that.” Just do it.
Maybe ABC wants the show in a sweeps month (February), so okay. But aside from that, get ‘er done.
And by pushing the Oscar back into late January, early February, the industry will be forced to abandon strategies that rely so heavily on late entries. Also, the films that want to open in October and November will be spared the insane expense of holdingholdingholding for months just to have a chance to be in the game. How much earlier will other awards go? Who cares? Let them destroy their brands at their own risk. Academy is king/queen.
The Show – Big barrel of monkeys.
Let me keep this brief.
1. Hire a TV producer for no less than 5 years.
2. Hire a host who will commit to no less than 3 years.
3. Try to build the show to honor the movies… those nominated and perhaps those popular ones that are not. This is not a concert. This is not a hipster event to try to grab the imagination of the under 25s. These are the fucking Academy Awards. Buckle your seat belts. It’s going to be a bumpy ride. (Note to all of you who just rolled their eyes in a “TV is so much better now” posture… my movie award show eats your TV award show’s rating alive. Roll that!)
4. Get the Special Honorees on the show. The brand of Oscar is being and making movie history. Embrace it.
5. Get your nominees on stage giving out awards. Month after month is spent building up these people. Audiences want to see them, not the young stars on April’s big action movie. They will get their slot on the MTV Movie Awards.
6. Try to build a second show that so clearly honors and explains the work of some of the below-the-line categories that those branches are happy to be a part of that show and can remove some of the time stress from the big show. Just kicking them to the curb is not, as The Academy has learned repeatedly, going to happen. Ever.
7. If you want to honor the hit movies of the year, don’t pussyfoot around. Just do it. The tuxedos will enjoy it too. Over do it. Go big. Then go back to honoring the movies that are nominated.
8. Did I mention that this is not a concert… not a stand-up venue… not about pandering to people who will never watch a stuffy old awards. It is about making a great show for the 40 million or so people who will not miss a stuffy old award show under pain of death.
Be The Academy.
Engage the limitations of your role in the world with honesty and kindness, not fear and excuses.
This is an exercise in branding. 95%. And what is The Academy’s brand. Established stars in tuxedos celebrating the hell out of themselves.
A.B.C. Always Be Cocky. You are The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences. Step to it.
Feels sleepy at the box office, even with back-to-back $50m+ opening weekends.
Woe to the white male. Cinderella, Insurgent, and even Fifty Shades of Grey… where is the product for us?
Oh yeah, we got The Gunman and Run All Night. Thanks a lot, Hollywood! If we white men weren’t directing all but one of these films and dominating the executive offices, we would be deeply, deeply offended.
Yeah, we got Kingsman: The Secret Service, which continues to do strong numbers. And American Sniper, of course. But those Hollywood people only teased us with those Oscar nominations that went no where. SNUB!
At least The Weinsteins decided to expand the pure, old-fashioned gore of It Follows into more theaters… wait… it’s brilliant, non-traditional horror? And there are some hot girls, but they aren’t exploited the way they usually are in horror? And it’s about something bigger? Damn it! At least they screwed it up by not deciding on a more aggressive theatrical position until after it was slotted for VOD, spent almost nothing in marketing, and can now claim that it didn’t really work, just doubling the gross by expanding to 8x the screens this weekend. See… can’t blame VOD.
Okay… coming out of character… can’t stand it anymore.
It Follows is a movie that could have easily done $20 million domestic if released with that intent. Screen Gems would have opened it to 20 back in the day. Teenage girls would love it, if someone sold it to them. Radius knew something was up when it became the must-see for serious genre fans… but the film is more than that. There should be op-ed pieces being done on it and fights on various Gawker-based sites. Every time I describe it someone, they want to see it.
But someone has to tell them it’s in theaters. I have zero question that there is a day-n-date VOD glass ceiling that makes the releasing method great for many indies and a complete soul killer for some of the films that would have been break-outs back in the days before VOD came into vogue at IFC and Magnolia. And I have enormous respect for so many of the choices that IFC and Magnolia and Radius make every day of the year. These companies are, with Sony Classics and a parade of smaller distributors, the soul of cinema in this era. BUT… they need to stop pretending that day-n-date is always the best choice for a “smaller” film. It Follows has been blowing people away for almost a year already. Snowpiercer came from a filmmaker with a history of making beloved films… and this time, it was in English! And to be fair, plenty of people are still talking about Harvey Weinstein blowing his opportunity on Paddington, which people of all ages seem to love.
Weinstein/Radius needs The Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” playing in the office 24/7, because they are at the crux of the dilemma for indie film these days. If I go there will be trouble. But if I stay there will be double. It’s bloody hard to play the middle.
And it’s not just Weinstein. Fox Searchlight, which has had massive success, including winning Best Picture two years in a row with New Regency, has often run into this problem. Calvary, Belle, Dom Hemingway, I Origins, and The Drop did $26 million domestic between them last year, $20m+ of it from 2 of the films. But strong, interesting choices. Good movies. A couple of great movies. And… meh. Profit against cost, etc, etc, they may have done okay. But that group of films should have done better. Searchlight isn’t dumb in the spring and smart in the fall. They are always smart and always well intended. Just didn’t get there.
There is nothing easy in the distribution game, except Batman. And while opportunity has expanded, the business is harder than ever. Searchlight doesn’t have the day-n-date VOD option. Weinstein/Radius does. But knowing when to use that tool and when to spend on the marketing required for real theatrical success, etc, etc, etc… all challenging. For companies whose average films are going to gross $2-5 million, a theatrical marketing budget is not a light decision.
Sony Classics, perhaps, lives in the middle of this more than any other distributor. Because of being a part of Sony, they don’t have the day-n-date option either. But they have a lot of “smaller” films with smaller expectations, some of which break out. $17 million with maybe a couple more million coming for Still Alice is a happy surprise. In the nearly 4 years since Midnight in Paris, the company has had only had 6 films go double-digits in millions. Three were Woody Allen. Two were Best Picture nominees this year. And most recently, Still Alice. But SPC has had many successful releases in that period. Of 61 releases since Paris, only 11 have grossed less than $500k in the US. Those are very strong numbers in today’s indie market. In IFC’s last 61 releases (including Boyhood), they’ve only had 11 of those films gross over $350k domestic theatrical. (Different model, but that’s my point.)
Even A24, which has been killing it, with 13 of their 15 releases in their first 2 years grossing at least $1 million, has had only one film gross over $7 million (Spring Breakers) and their other bigger grossers (A Most Violent Year, The Spectacular Now, The Bling Ring) feel like they left a lot of money on the theatrical table.
Anyway… I don’t come to piss on Radius or even VOD. But it’s time for some big rethinking… again. And theatrical should be a part of that re-think.
After looking at the footage of the doc again, I believe the second interview—including the Times Square walk and trips to family real estate—was shot in early April 2012. I also believe that the interview they say in the film that they had “leverage” to get was a third interview, not the second one.
Anyway… lots of questions and followups to ask…
Question: When, specifically, did you realize that the non-interview ramblings of Durst in the first interview might have editorial value? Were you aware he had a propensity to talk to himself at that time and did you hope he would?
Question: How long was the second interview? Was it, as it was shown, almost exclusively about building to the moment of showing him the two signatures? Did oh do the Times Square walk before that? When you ended the interview, as seen on TV, did you actually end the interview or was there any expectation that you might continue?
Question: Why would you leave Durst confessing to have faked his alibi in his wife’s murder case out of the film? Was this about maintaining tension until the end?
Question: Why is there surveillance footage of Saraf and Durst in Los Angeles? When was it taken? Why were you filming Durst without his knowledge at that point? Was it before or after the incriminating letter? Was it before or after the second interview?
Question: Were you trying for a third interview for a year or longer without success, under the assumption that Bob Durst might still think you were on his side? When exactly did the call in which Durst seems to abruptly hang up on Andrew take place?
Question: What triggered your first contact with police? Was there ongoing communication? Did you have anything to add, aside from the incriminating envelope and the bathroom audio?
Question: What happened in 2014? Why didn’t the film come out that year? What would the film have looked like without the bathroom audio?
SXSW seems to have reached Peak Sundance this year.
That’s not a compliment.
Four South Bys from Bridesmaids and the trend of big studio films doing early (or not-so-early) reach out to geek audiences has become the norm, not the surprise. For Team Apatow/Feig/Stoller, it’s become a tradition. Forgetting Sarah Marshall in 2008, Bridesmaids in 2011, Neighbors in 2013, and this year, two films, Trainwreck and Spy.
Worth noting, Universal, Universal, Universal, Universal, Fox.
Also worth noting: No The Five-Year Engagement, no Begin Again, no The Heat, no Get Him To The Greek, no Ted.
2012: Cabin In The Woods ($42m), 21 Jump Street ($138m)
2013: Evil Dead ($54m), The Incredible Burt Wonderstone ($23m)
2914: Neighbors ($150m), Veronica Mars ($3.3m), Chef ($31m), Cesar Chavez ($6m)
What will be the results for Get Hard, Spy, Trainwreck, and Universal’s Ex Machina this year? Most likely, very strong.
This is the eternal question about these premieres at film festivals, whether the biggest in the world or the high middle or the low end… or ComicCon, for that matter.
It is completely understandable that the media has grabbed onto the idea that SWSW is “The Raunchy Comedy Fest.” It’s not that. But that is what has become the lead story now, year after year.
This is the devil’s bargain that festivals are faced with… do they try to focus attention on the high quality films that can’t afford to chase national media attention or do the festivals grab media attention with studio films with studio marketing budgets (and stars) and try to spread it around?
Like it or not, the history of film festival growth seems to be directly related the “pandering” to movies that don’t need festivals, aside from as a cheap marketing event to a targeted demographic group.
The conversation gets a little different in the fall, when Telluride, Toronto, and New York all spread ’em for the “awards films” that draw attention. Some of those have smaller budgets for marketing and really need to catapult effect from these festivals. And, for the most part, the films themselves are more ambitious than summer comedy or horror.
But that is really a different issue. And I have written about ComicCon many times… that I don’t think anyone can legitimately point to a single movie that was going to do a lot of business that would have done a noticeable amount less had they not gone to ComicCon. Inversely, there is a long list of films that got LOVE at the Con and ended up bombing anyway.
For studios, “premiere” at festivals like SXSW are just word-of-mouth screenings in a fan-oriented environment. Each festival has a personality. And the tone is set with the critics in attendance as well. Of course, critics mean little with commercial comedies and horror films, as has been proven repeatedly by films that are loved in these circumstances, but then are considered commercial underperformers. And I can’t recall a single case of a film in which the movie was destined for relative modesty at the box office but was then raised to the heavens by a festival screening.
It was great for Universal to have the in-house enthusiasm for Bridesmaids that was stoked by a successful sneak at SXSW – which is really what these are – and they rode that wave all the way to May (2 months away). The film opened to a solid, but unspectacular $26 million and then proceeded to do more than 6x opening weekend domestically… which is spectacular. Likewise, Ted, opened in late June with no festivals… opened stronger and did a tremendous (in that context) 4x opening. In other words, two R-rated comedies that Universal knew were good opened – one lesser but with longer legs and one stronger with strong but not as long legs – and which one would expect got the festival bump?
So indulge me when I say that these screenings mean a lot to the people involved and nearly nothing to the ultimate marketing of these movies. And none of these movies – or any other wide release – opens without successful marketing.
That said, does it matter?
In the end, it only matters to me because I do not want my experience of discovering a movie derailed by “buzz” from a million different buzzers, large and small. I can’t be swayed and I don’t want to concern myself with avoiding positive or negative context for a film when I first see it… as a consumer or as a critic.
What do The Hollywood Reporter and Variety think? I could not care less. Both have been right about movies and both have been wrong. And unless the critic is one with whose work I am deeply familiar, I have no reason to trust anyone just because they write under a journalistic banner whose name I know. This is also true with, say, The NY Times. I read Manohla and Tony for criticism, not that paper.
Is it bad for the lower profile films at these festivals? Good question. Answer is, “both” and every story as to why and to what degree is different.
Is this bad or good for MOVIES? Meaningless, really. There is more accessible movie writing than ever in the history of the world and has it changed the financials a whit? Not that I can see.
I will admit… when I started writing this, my eyes were rolling. I look forward to seeing Trainwreck and Spy, but I also know that they wouldn’t have gone if they weren’t already testing pretty well. Amy Schumer is the great comedic mind of the moment – Lorne Michaels missed that one, big time – Apatow knows comedy and Hader is always a joy. Melissa McCarthy is funny even when she isn’t and Spy sounds like the great John Belushi or Chris Farley or Jim Carrey movie that wasn’t. But I don’t really need to know what trades or geeks think of these films months in advance. I’ll know what to think when the lights come on.
On the other hand… who cares? God bless SXSW and all the festivals and all the people who go and enjoy the films and the event of it all.
There is a natural conflict. These movies aren’t there as art. They are there as a piece of a business plan. But… even if it doesn’t earn any of the films a single extra dime… who cares? And if it distracts from more serious work at SXSW, that is SXSW’s choice and they will navigate it as they see fit.
I guess in the end, it is how I feel about Sundance too. “Paris Hilton is taking up too much oxygen!” Well, then YOU are the one paying too much attention to Paris Hilton, because you could well go through all 10 days of the festival and never see her, never know where she is, and never care.
Posted from a camp site…
So who’s next? Room for your suggestions below…
What does one say about the weakest box office weekend of 2015 led by the weakest #1 grosser of any weekend in 2015?
Next weekend, Cinderella will push the market back into the top half of 2015 weekends. So goes the rollercoaster of release dates.
Before we allow the creeping terror of the “2015 box office would be crappy without American Sniper” spin, here is one very easy to chew stat. There has never been more than two $50 million+ openings in Jan-Mar (Q1) in the history of the film business. Considering the next two weekends (Cinderella/Insurgent) Q1 2015 will have FOUR. Add on top of that the remarkable expansion of American Sniper.
Want to expand the survey a bit, to $30 million openings? 2015 will come up one short of the record of 8 such openings, which has happened a couple of times. But then again, the budgets on this year’s 7 $30 million+ Q1 openers will be significantly less than either 2010 or 2012 (the year’s with 8 such openings).
Look… I am not arguing that this year’s early box office is world-beating, fat, rich excitement. But it is strong and solid. And arguing any kind of “trouble” is myopic and irrational.
The happiest story of the weekend was the opening of The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which topped any weekend of the original film and is in position to match or top the number of the first film domestically. The First Marigold made its larger fortune overseas, where it scored $90m. The Second is already has $20m in the bank chasing that number.
Kingsman: The Secret Service is not only on the tip of $100m domestically, but also, $250m worldwide.
The success of Still Alice is worth noting. It’s up to $14.7 million domestic. That outdoes both 2014 titles Foxcatcher and Whiplash. And it will likely outdo Sony Classics’ top 2013 title To Rome with Love ($16.7 million). It won’t come close to either of the recent SPC Woody Allen hits, Blue Jasmine or Midnight in Paris. But did anyone see a strong commercial play in this movie? I know that the first driving force for picking up the film at Toronto last year was the sense that Julianne Moore was sure to win the Oscar with it. But this is quite a happy upside… not just for SPC, but for the film and filmmakers, who have to be thrilled that their work is being so widely seen, even before post-theatrical.
Arthouse/limited release films were soft as well, with the re-issue of Grey Gardens doing the best per-screen on 1 ($11k) and Phillipine romantic drama Crazy Beautiful You doing $500k on 47 screens as a niche market smash.
Sorry… having some e-mail problems this morning and there is no box office chart… so far…
If it makes you feel better, the weekend sucks. Happens. Next weekend will be all about the girl. I wish Cinderella was actually a good movie. It’s not. But it does hit the iconic heart strings. More on that later.
I avoided Chappie. Too sad.
The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel took a shot at a wide release and it seems to have paid off…
And here we are…