The Hot Blog Archive for April, 2017

Weekend Estimates by Klady & The Baby 2

Weekend Etimates 040917 651w

Both estimates are likely high, but Fox outdid Disney, projecting a 3.8x Friday-to-weekend gross for The Boss Baby over a 3.7x ratio projected by Beauty & The Beast by Disney, even though the assumption would be that the soft opening of Smurfs: The Lost Village Opening would come out of Baby‘s hide more than Beauty‘s. The other wide opener, Going in Style, did okay, slotting into a space without many, if any, legitimate comparisons.

Fox’s 10-pack of releases from DreamWorks Animation is near its end, but going out strong with The Boss Baby looking like it will pass last summer’s Trolls, and with Captain Underpants on his way, hoping to be the Twilight of the under-13 set. It will be fascinating to see if Universal can bump the DWA franchise up a notch, which has never cracked $750m worldwide aside from Shrek films, to where Disney/Pixar and sometimes Illumination lives.

Beauty & The Beast will join the billion-dollar club this week. It’s doubled the #2 earner domestically (Logan). And it still has an outside shot at catching Frozen ($1.28b) to become Disney’s top princess film ever.

Smurfs: The Lost Village is the third of the series for Sony Animation and remains in line with grossing more than three-quarters of it revenues overseas, even on this opening weekend. If the opening projects out as the other two films did, this is a $300 million worldwide grosser, even with just $60m domestic.

Going in Style is one of those movies you want to root for… but… we’ll see. The opening isn’t deadly, but WB has to have the patience for the film to find its (old) audience.

Ghost in the Shell crashed this weekend. A 61% second weekend is not shocking for a big action film coming off a big opening. But this comes off a soft opening. And I wonder whether the studio legitimizing the whitewashing stories to explain last weekend’s opening had an impact. The issue may have gotten more air from that than from the original complaints. Either way… tough going for what will be remembered as an underrated (however imperfect) movie.

The Zookeeper’s Wife expanded nicely. Not excitingly, but nicely.

Fox Searchlight’s Gifted didn’t rock the world on its 56 screens, but the per-screen is pretty solid under the circumstances. Can word of mouth help it in expansion?

Colossal was the per-screen monster this weekend with $30k per, but Their Finest may be showing the stronger potential legs, with an appeal to older audiences.

And the indie that has done the most business that you are least likely to know about is Kedi, from Oscilloscope, which is about cats on the streets of Istanbul and is the small distributor’s #2 grosser of all time already.

Also, The Shack is on its way to matching last year’s top religious entry, Miracles from Heaven, as it becomes the fifth religious-audience-only niche film to do $60 million domestic in the past four years.

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Friday Estimates by Baby & The Beast Klady

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False Trends: The End Of Movie Stars

The industry is learning quickly – more quickly than much of the media – that there is IP that, handled well, leads to explosive financial results. But not all IP. Not even most IP.

Every single film that has opened to more than $78 million domestically has been IP-driven. The problem is that most IP-driven films these days are so expensive that they NEED to open to more than $75 million just to be within range of “successful.”

So we are back to the start of the same old process that has gripped Hollywood since the studio system broke up in the late 1960s. Take the idea, polish it up, get excited… then feel it’s necessary to add a real live movie star to prime the pump.

The mythology of the end of movie stars is a popular media meme. What writers see is the lowered value of the stars of their youths – Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and others – and no replacement for the remarkable runs these actors had in the 1990s and early 2000s.

But they are missing big pieces of the factual puzzle.

1. The runs of this group of stars was an anomaly, not a norm. The rise of the $20 million opening star was driven by front-loading box office to opening weekend. These actors were the most popular of their time. The math changed around them, they didn’t change the math. And then the math changed again.

2. Human movie stars still open a significant number of movies based heavily on their popularity… arguably the same number of movies as in the 00s, 90s and 80s.

3. Massive openings are a function of remade CG-driven genres and franchises. They represent 100% of the openings over $78 million. There is not a single case of a primarily actor-driven film opening over $78 million. This doesn’t devalue the actors who appear in massive movies/franchises. They add something tangible. But they aren’t (with a few very specific exceptions) driving openings. But the mega-movies are not replacing actor-driven films, but have created their own exclusive category.

What inspired me to write this piece is observing that there is a clear trend of including “movie stars” in big IP-driven movies that hadn’t previously seen the need. In some cases, “movie stars” are characters from other IP-driven movies (see: Marvel). Regardless, the need to boost value of already steroid-muscular IP CG extravaganzas with familiar, beloved actors (some of whom only have real financial power in specific roles) is back.

But before we get into the current situation, let’s look back at how we got here, beginning with the question, “What is a movie star?”

In the modern box office era, Movie Stars are defined by how well they open movies. That is the job. They are bait to launch the film. In the best careers, there is the sense that those stars also have the best taste, choosing projects that not only open, but play well, leading to big grosses. ($100m domestic used to be the border for a blockbuster. This has also changed. )

For me, the idea of the modern box office movie star really starts in earnest in 1993. Why?

Eight of the Top Ten openers in 1993 were star driven. One reboot (of a TV show), but no sequels…

Ford – The Fugitive – $23.8m
Williams – Mrs. Doubtfire – $20.5m
Cruise – The Firm – $25.4m
Hanks – Sleepless in Seattle – $17.3m
Roberts – The Pelican Brief – $16.9m
Stallone – Cliffhanger – $16.2m
Schwarzenegger – The Last Action Hero – $15.3m
Eastwood – In The Line of Fire – $15.3m

Also notable about 1993, Jurassic Park. The Spielberg effects extravaganza was the top opener of the year with $47 million… almost double the #2 (The Firm).

It is a myth that Hollywood was full of originals or fresh ideas in those “good ‘ol days.” 1993 is interesting because of all those originals. In both 1991 and 1992, the Top 5 openers were all sequels or reboots. In 1990, 4 of the Top 5 were sequels or reboots (Total Recall was the newbie). In 1989, the Top 2-6 were sequels and the #1 was… Batman.

Let’s unpack this. 1991 was the first year ever with five $20m openers (4 sequels and The Addams Family).

1994 was the first year with more than five $20 million openers. There were 7. Four were from stars Cruise/Pitt, Schwarzenegger, Hanks, and Ford. The other 3 were The Flintstones, The Mask, Star Trek: Generations, all three starring or based on TV talent/shows.

In 1995, we saw nine $20 million openings. Six had major movie openers: Jim Carrey in a Batman movie, Jim Carrey in a sequel, Tom Hanks animated, Hanks going to space, Bruce Willis sequel, Kevin Costner in Waterworld. The other three were non-movie-star-driven films: a Bond, Cargo, and Mortal Kombat.

That was 22 years ago and from here in 2017, you can see the clear bifurcation over years. And you can see the evolution of the $20 million opening as the standard for a major opening movie star.

1996 had 12 $20m openings. Three cartoons (if you include Space Jam) and a live-action adaptation of an animated film (101 Dalmatians). Also, 5 movie-star openings by Cruise, Gibson, Murphy, Cage/Connery, and Schwarzenegger. (Carrey was just under a $20m launch with a movie called a bomb, The Cable Guy). Twister & Star Trek. And on top, Independence Day, which made a movie star of Will Smith, another TV guy who made the giant leap successfully and embodied the movie star ideal.

1997: 16 $20m openings – 9 movie star openings – Smith, Clooney, Ford, Carrey, Williams, Cage, Cage/Travolta, Roberts, Foster.

1998: 17 $20m openings – 8 movie star openings – Sandler, Willis, Gibson, Carrey, Hanks, Murphy, Williams, Smith

1999 – 22 $20m openings – 14 movie star openings – Myers, Sandler, Roberts, Smith, Willis, Judd, Travolta, Roberts, Hanks, Cruise, Gibson, Schwarzenegger, Murphy, Connery/Zeta-Jones

$20 million was (and is) the standard. Actors are making $20 million and more. As our starting point, 1993, was a few years after the start of sell-through VHS, 1999 is three years after the launch of sell-thru DVD and the massive revenue was now flowing.

In 2000, the next wave of change arrived. There were still 11 or 12 movie-star-driven openers, but just three in the Top 10 openings of the year, both in sequels (Mission: Impossible II, The Klumps and The Perfect Storm, which was as much as the wave as the Clooney).

However, the IP was clearly becoming a new kind of movie star. The Grinch, X-Men, Charlie’s Angels, Gladiator

Now we’re up to 2001… Top 10 openers… not one true movie star opening in the group and the only two you could really argue to be star-driven were Hannibal, a Ridley Scott non-sequel-sequel to Silence of the Lambs that had Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter, and Angelina Jolie in Tomb Raider. But even then, these two stars was playing very specific, iconic roles (one of style, one of spandex).

You could go 13 top openings straight before you hit the overtly talent-driven Ocean’s Eleven.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
Planet of the Apes
The Mummy Returns
Rush Hour 2
Monsters, Inc.
Pearl Harbor
Hannibal
Jurassic Park III
Lara Croft: Tomb Raider
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
American Pie 2
Shrek
The Fast and the Furious

We were now into the CGI era, which leapt again in 2002 with Spider-Man, the first $100 million opening, and the next movie version of “you will believe a man can fly.”

Movie Stars, as we knew them in the previous decade, could not be expected to open a $100 million movie based on their audience relationship.

In fact, the numbers are pretty remarkable when you look at them. Try these on… 68. 69. 66, 62, 62, 77, 65, 77, 60, 69

Those numbers match Carrey, Jolie, Pitt, Downey, DiCaprio, Smith, Cruise, Hanks, Gibson, Damon, aka the 10 individual movie stars who have had the highest domestic openings outside of a supersuit or animation or a franchise bigger than themselves and those high openings.

Bruce Almighty, Maleficent, World War Z, Sherlock Holmes, Inception, I Am Legend, War of the Worlds, The DaVinci Code, Signs, The Bourne Ultimatum. Mostly films with a lot more going on than a movie star… but let’s give them that.

You wondering about Clooney? Bullock? They share Gravity as best domestic opener at $56 million. Ben Affleck? Pearl Harbor, $59 million. Scarlett Johansson? $44 million for Lucy.

And there is an outlier, though it takes a little work to get there… Bradley Cooper in American Sniper, which was in limited for three holiday weekends before going wide in January to $89 million.

But… there is (for now) a “pure” star power ceiling that is undeniable.

If you look at the box office with that star ceiling as a given, you naturally see the numbers differently. I count 61 movies that opened between $40 million and $70 million in the last 5 years (2012-2016). Of those, 16 were sold, first and foremost, as movie star vehicles (not counting sequels or otherwise established franchises). Jolie, Pitt, Damon, Tatum/Hill, Bullock/Clooney, Cruise, Smith, Johnson, Wahlberg, Damon, DiCaprio, Rogen, McCarthy/Wiig, Johansson, Washington.

I count another 49 star-driven openers in those five years between $20 million and $40 million.

So, that’s 65 star-driven openings between $20m & $70m in the last five years… or 13 each year.

In 2002 (to grab a sample year), I count 14 star-driven openings between $20m and $70m. In 2003, I count 11. In 2001, I count 9.

So are “movie stars” a dead idea or have we simply changed the economic expectations and possibilities having found the tools that not only lead to much bigger openings in the US, but around the world?

I say the latter.

But the reason I sat down to write is another phenomenon I noticed, beginning with Marvel. Last summer’s Captain America: Civil War co-starred not only Iron Man, but a bunch of Avengers and some new characters who are heading to individual films. But this really started with Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which added Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury. This second Cap-led film certainly benefited from Avengers as well, but it also had more star power and almost doubled its worldwide gross. The third Cap film, Civil War, loaded with Avengers, grew another 61%.

This summer’s Spider-Man has almost as much Iron Man in the trailers as Spider-Man. Guardians 2 adds Stallone and Kurt Russell. Thor 3? The Hulk comes along. We haven’t seen Black Panther materials yet, but will an Avenger or two show up there, as Black Panther showed up in Civil War?

Marvel has realized that they can boost openings (and thus, the overall gross) by throwing established characters at their standalone films. And what are those characters? Movie Stars.

With due respect to the Avengers actors… few of them can open a movie to big numbers without the suit on. They are a specific kind of movie star.

It’s not just Marvel. Did they need a major movie star to open The Mummy in 1999? No. $43m opening. Third best of the year, best non-sequel. Who is the lead in 2017? Tom Cruise.

Baywatch is not only a raunchy comedy with a deeply familiar footprint, but it stars Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron. (Biggest non F&F/animated opening for Dwayne? $57m. Director Seth Gordon’s best opening? $35 million. Both will hope to set new records with this IP-led film.)

We have a fifth Pirates… which has a whole parade of new and old characters, but is still Depp-endent. Disney would love to stop paying Depp mega-dollars for these films. But is the IP the IP without him?

The Apes series added Woody Harrelson, who co-starred in the Hunger Games movies, which opened over $100m. (Apes’ best is $73m.)

Even Transformers, whose stars are CGed, is keeping Mark Wahlberg (star power added in the last film) and adding Sir Anthony Hopkins and Hunger Games co-star Stanley Tucci.

The fear – particularly in the media – has been this sense that the machines are taking over. But the CG is not your enemy. This summer, there are few movies chasing the dragon without a legit movie star or a raise of the ante with a strong second-tier opener.

Two of the big summer 2017 films are going out without traditional movie stars, but are from tip-top-tier directors who are the stars of their movies: Sir Ridley’s Alien: Covenant and Sir-to-be Nolan’s Dunkirk.

Baby Driver is a much smaller movie, but is also director-led from beloved Edgar Wright.

That leaves King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, Wonder Woman, Valerian, and The Dark Tower as the four non-star summer movies. And all three are seen as big risks.

Dark Tower has McConaughey, but the question of whether he really helps open a big film (aside from his talent) is hanging out there.

Arthur is Guy Ritchie and without Downey as Sherlock, his best opening is $13.4 million.

Wonder Woman is DC brand… and for all the screaming, Green Lantern opened to $53 million, so it will be interesting to see what the standard for success is there.

Valerian is the new passion explosion from Luc Besson… which feels a lot like his passion explosion The Fifth Element, which had a big star in Bruce Willis, but still opened to $17 million, twentieth best for 1997, mid-range by that era and Bruce Willis’ standards. (Personally, I consider Besson an auteur on the level of a Scott or Nolan, but I can’t argue that he is widely seen as such in the U. S. at this point.)

Lots of details about this summer’s films, but to the point… all four of the large scale films without major box office stars have someone on the money side wishing they had found a spot for a big movie star or two for protection about now. I’m sure Besson isn’t thinking about that… but you can be sure that STX is. If DeHaan and Delevingne break out into box office stars with this film, the win would be even greater (like Guardians). But in these last months before release, trying to sell an action space comedy with Emma Stone and Logan Lerman might seem more attractive to a marketer.

Maybe the producers of Dark Tower see something mighty happening and see the franchise working without the extra distraction. Very possible. But WB isn’t going to be happy if Wonder Woman opens to $60 million. And King Arthur just smells of death.

But the biggest thing is getting the good people in the media to change how they approach the conversation. It is factually unreasonable to expect any movie star to open any movie that isn’t led with IP goodness to over $75 million. Really, anything over $50 million is extraordinary. $20 million is still a solid standard for movie stardom. And there are as many of those as ever.

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False Trends Sidebar: How The Myth Of The Death Of The Movie Star Came About

There’s a reason why reporting on movie stars has become focused on “the problem with movie stars” instead of a realistic judgement of how the industry has changed.

As always, follow the money.

The first commercial DVD release of a feature film was Twister, for Christmas stockings in 1996.

The industry decided to make DVD a sell-thru product, as opposed to the rental business that was the primary DVD revenue stream. (The first big push for mass sell-thru VHS – aside from Disney classics – was Batman in 1989. It did well, but rental remained the primary business until DVD.)

Independence Day and Jerry Maguire, among others, followed. And then, the rell game changer in 1998… August 31… Titanic. (And Men in Black and Liar Liar and Jurassic 2 and Air Force One, etc, etc, etc.)

The DVD gold rush was on. This was one period where the idea that every movie could be profitable was pretty much true. You had to work hard to lose money. Mediocre theatrical runs became hits, hits became blockbusters, and blockbusters became life changers.

And that was when we saw the rise of the $20 million movie star. Not just the ones at the very top either. The biggest stars were demanding $30 million in cash, plus real points.

This wasn’t a case like Jack Nicholson as The Joker, when he got a massive backend payday because no one at the studio really believed the film would make as much as it did. In this period, agents cleverly figured out what the DVD revenues would look like and would demand that their clients get paid the amount that would be equal to a big chunk of that, as the unions had agreed to limit the amount that talent could get out of the DVD revenues. So they took it a different way.

And then 2006.

Costs in all areas had grown wildly out of control, in no small part because of all that crazy DVD money. The cost of production had gone wild. Marketing budgets grew exponentially and the cost of marketing DVDs was catching up to the cost of releasing the films in theatrical (allowed because there was significantly more money coming into studios from the DVD than theatrical). Talent salaries were in the nosebleeds, even for non-sequels.

Two stories defined the gravy train coming to a sudden halt. One was Tom Cruise and Mission: Impossible III, which went wildly over budget and generated 27% less at the box office than M:I2. The way the deal had been done, Tom Cruise (also producing) walked away with over $65 million. DVD was already softening for feature films – the overall numbers made more attractive by TV series sales – and even with $400 million in theatrical, Paramount was about to walk away with some red ink. Sumner Redstone wanted Tom to reconsider the deal to allow breathing room for the studio. Cruise refused. And that is when it suddenly became all about Cruise jumping on Oprah’s couch. That was bull. Follow the money.

The second story was the end of Used Guys, a movie most of you won’t recall, because it was never made. The package was Ben Stiller, Jim Carrey, and Jay Roach. Carrey had delivered his ultimate cash cow with Bruce Almighty in 2003. Stiller had Dodgeball, Meet The Fockers (with Roach), and Night At The Museum on the way at Fox. And Roach was the comedy king with Austin Powers and Fockers giving him four $300m ww grossers.

The budget for the comedy crossed the $110 million line. And Tom Rothman pulled the plug.

This was no small thing. Rothman had bet big on Stiller and was deep in business with him on the forthcoming Night at the Museum. And indeed, Stiller (who exploded in Fox’s There’s Something About Mary) would not make anything other than a Museum sequel with Fox for six years after this deal went bad.

Everything didn’t just stop on a dime and change in 2006. There were overpriced movies, bloated ideas and overpaid movie stars for years after. But 2006 was the year when Hollywood started to say “no.”

And when Hollywood started saying, “no,” the agents – who create 70% of the press in this town – freaked out. The sky was falling. They couldn’t deliver the way they were delivering. And that is when the “movie stars are over” mythology started taking hold.

And the freaking out continues.

Over the past decade, bit by bit, studios have tightened the reins. And sure enough, movies are still making money. Big movies, small movies, middle movies.

The questions for studios have little to do with movie stars. It’s whether a $30 million investment, a $100 million investment, or a $350 million investment is the best way to maximize profits. And there are good arguments for and against each of those levels… and for balancing the 3… and for picking just one level and staying with that.

Movie stars in 2017 are playing on all those levels. In the heyday of DVD, they were getting paid the entire production and P&A budget for the $30 million level themselves. But by investing in the smaller productions, some of those stars are making some very impressive money for having taken the risks. (And some are not.)

Movie stars aren’t dead. It’s just not like the good ol’ days… you know, 10 years ago.

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Weekend Estimates by Not As Boss As Expected Klady

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The Boss Baby won the weekend, as expected, though its Saturday family bump was not quite as strong as might have been. Still, another success for Fox as DreamWorks Animation heads out the door (one film left). Beauty is still a beast, though it was a bit off last weekend’s Friday-to-Weekend multiple. Ghost in the Shell couldn’t crack the $20 million barrier… and even that would have been disappointing for a movie of this size. Dazzling effects imagery isn’t enough to open anymore. The Zookeeper’s Wife opens well, in spite of an oddball 541 screen count.

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BYOB: Life Is Shell

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Friday Estimates by Baby Klady

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Fox may have delivered its best DreamWorks Animation opening with its penultimate release, as Boss Baby‘s opening day is almost identical to the top DWA/Fox release, Home. The rest of the weekend will tell, but $50m+ is in the cards for this comedy that played more like a Termite Terrace homage than a Trump joke before The Orange Menace became president. To be clear, I don’t think anyone is going to see this movie because of the Trump thing. But it is undeniable… and Alec Baldwin makes it unavoidable.

Even if Beauty & The Beast once again has a strong 3.8x Friday multiple for the weekend, it won’t get to that $50 million mark. But don’t cry for Beast, as it will become the sixth fastest film to hit $400 million domestic on Wednesday or Thursday this week. It will probably take a couple more weeks to pass $1 billion worldwide.

Ghost in the Shell will open to a little better than half of Lucy‘s opening. Lucy is the comp. 100%, at least domestically. The passionate following for the original Ghost in the Shell – mostly the same group focusing on whitewashing – are valuable, but nowhere near large enough to change the box office profile. This is true of all comic book movies and most franchises, really. You have a few franchises, like Twilight and The Hunger Games, where the lookie-loos drop off and the large core stays in place through the whole run. What is fascinating about Ghost is that the critical Asian market for the new film is where the English language and white star will be most obvious… and could go really, really well for Paramount, more so than in the U.S. where these issues are political chatter.

So the answer is, Ghost is not going to be a big U.S. hit. But it could be a solid moneymaker based on international returns. Story TK.

The Zookeeper’s Wife continues to get curiouser and curiouser. 474 screens. When is the last time you saw a movie open with that count? It is rare, especially for studio divisions. Basically, it’s a dump count. The exception (kind of) was 2015, when Universal threw Everest out there on 545 in September and Sony put The Walk out on the tightrope on 440. Both movies had high ambitions. (Didn’t write that as a pun… but ha ha, it became one.) The Walk was a disaster at the box office, whereas Everest was just a failure.

Zookeeper out-opened its screen count. It performed yesterday like the foreign-language non-Hollywood domestic hits that do a big number for a weekend and then disappear. But Zookeeper is not that. It is an awards movie that opened, instead, in late March/early April… a victim of an overfilled (and excellent) Focus awards schedule. And its opening is bigger than any English-language major studio release on fewer than 650 screens in the last five years, with the exception of Everest and the original Pitch Perfect, which launched on 335 and did $1.8m on opening day. The closest actual comp I found in the five-year look was A Most Wanted Man, which Roadside released on 361 screens in July 2014 and opened to $717k on opening day. Prestige movie. Oscar talk. $17.2 million domestic. Zookeeper will do a bit better than that, probably passing $20 million. But that is probably the glass ceiling… limited by its programming… unless it breaks away in some unique way.

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The Hot Blog

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“That’s an artifact of just what a strange animal it was. They didn’t know, none of us really knew what to call it, or how to classify it. But aside from the confusion about the classification, the actual what we were going to shoot — the length of each of the stories, all of which vary — there was never anything that we were considering doing any differently. There were never any more stories and they were always intended to be seen as a group.”
~ Joel Coen on The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs at NYFF press conference

“I find it hard to believe that it’s pure machismo. It’s too simple of a thought. I don’t know what the reason could be. I also think that it makes sense that, as time goes by, filmmaking should become more of a women-dominated activity. To me, of course, I feel like it’s going to happen. It seems to me that, especially for a certain cinema with its own language, you need to take a lot of risks. And women receive a type of education that allows much more for failure than the type men receive. It is easier for a woman to take risks than for a man. But I’ll also tell you another thing, women need to learn to master the tools, to solve technical problems, to control unscripted situations. There is also a totally macho attitude that many women have internalized in terms of not solving certain technical problems on their own. That also makes them a little less capable… Female DoPs often think that their technical area is limited to pen and paper. And that’s wrong. You need to learn a lot of things to be a good DoP. For me, machismo breeds both a masculine education and a nefarious feminine education. Macho culture engenders an education for men and another for women. The education for men we already know, and is easily criticized. And the nefarious education that machismo has for women is exemplified by women who ultimately ignore how to use tools, who—when something breaks, or when it gets dark—are rendered useless and get desperate. Women who do not even know how to build a fire. They don’t know how to deal with these situations, because these were activities that have traditionally been delegated to men. That can make us… not very… prone to achieve certain things. For me, we first have to fight against our own education, and also against an external model of erasure that has rendered women less capable than men in certain fields.”
Lucrecia Martel