| September 23, 2020
The single most significant public event in the possible Oscar season to come happened today. Disney and Lin-Manuel Miranda moved Hamilton into 2020.
No, I am not saying that Hamilton is a lock to win Best Picture. It is possible that it won’t be nominated. It is possible that it will be nominated and lose. Etcetera. That is not my point.
Cannes and Venice are dead for 2020. Telluride, Toronto and New York are iffy, regardless of what they say now. For there to be an Academy Awards as is traditional in February, at least three of the six months of the year, starting in July, will have to have movie theaters open and operating in a relatively traditional way, in terms of movies being released and non-industry audiences being able to see them in relative safety. And I believe that two of those three months have to be some combination of October, November and December.
The festivals are the festivals. They are the ignition to the season. They are not The Season.
The Hamilton decision is multi-layered.
First, The Oscar thing. It is a natural contender. A film shot on a stage has always been a TV thing, going back to PBS and even the early days of HBO, when shows like Camelot were a part of the Original Programming mix long before series became their groove. But welcome to 2020, where the lines are blurrier and blurrier.
And oh yeah… it is going to be a Streamer.
Second, Streaming. There is endless talk about “all options on the table” and “out-of-the-box thinking,” but it is exciting when a choice made by a big company actually allows for all options and shows out-of-the-box thinking. This is a case of that. Just a few months ago, in a culture far, far away, Disney bought Hamilton rights. The “movie” was shot in 2016 and was likely finished except for a few touches and sitting on Tommy Kail’s shelf at home, waiting for the right moment.
When Hamilton movie rights were sold, all the way back in February, the plan was to release the Freestyle Love Supreme doc (Lin-Manuel Miranda & Co’s origin story) on Hulu in May 2020, followed by In The Heights (the second act) in June 2020, followed by Hamilton, sometime in 2021.
Coronavirus flipped all that, pushing In The Heights — a hot, New York, summery movie — into Summer 2021. And what do you do with Hamilton at that point? Compete against yourself? Push it all the way to 2022? Give up what was the symmetry of the three films being released in succession, as opposed to each being in a different year?
So Disney and Miranda (& Co) took a look at the goals that each had for the Hamilton movie and flipped the script dramatically. A full theatrical release always had a plan for a lot of free screenings for kids and the ticket price-challenged. Miranda has created special opportunities with his show from the start. And even so, there was likely a $140 million – $250 million worldwide box office opportunity for Disney and partners. And having the successful theatrical launch of Hamilton as a part of the Disney+ library afterwards was a not-insignificant added bonus.
But… Coronavirus. So what to do? The finished film was sitting on a shelf. So the cost of waiting was negligible compared to a film that had a big production investment and is sitting for an extra year or two. (Or course, no interest right now… but still.) They were really free to do whatever didn’t conflict with In The Heights (at WB).
You can start to see, now that it has been a live service for six months, that the Disney+ strategy is not going to be to pile up new content like Netflix, but to try to roll out one high-profile item every month or two. Check!
The Academy changed the rules for this year so that you can release something on streaming first and then theatrically qualify it. Check!
People are hungry for event programming and no one knows how the transition back to theatrical release will work in July or August… if they work out at all. Check!
Disney+ is a premium platform that is also the cheapest premium platform. $7 a month. No ups, no extras! A couple dollars more than a normal on-demand digital rental. Check!
The film cost Disney $75 million to buy… a lot for a filmed Broadway show, but not a lot for a phenom or for a high-impact event on Disney+ (even if they have much tighter budgets overall than Netflix). Check!
By releasing the film on July 3, it fits the independence day theme. And it beats Tenet to viewers, regardless of whether Tenet lands on time or not. So it is the first serious Oscar contender of the year. And it grabs publicity for weeks before Tenet tip-toes in (don’t be surprised if their July release ends up in IMAX only or some such thing for the first few weeks as audiences consider the choice to come back to theaters). And if the film plays great and things move forward for Oscar season, it will be the first non-Netflix film to start on streaming that will then spend the effort and cash to make a serious run at Oscar nods.
What I find exciting is that it isn’t making lemonade out of lemons or throwing something at the wall to see if it sticks. This feels like a change of plans with a full strategic logic of its own. And that, my friends, is a rarity amidst the paradigm-shifting hysteria.
And so the 2020 Oscar season – real or phantom – lurches to life earlier than expected. And it starts somewhere unexpected, Disney+.
Anyone who reads me regularly knows that I believe in theatrical and that Oscar should remain as an award for theatrical movies. It’s not about Netflix so much as the wave of streaming that will become the norm for your television. Theatrical is just another thing. But the rules are what the rules are. And within that context, I will embrace the strategies and tactics and enjoy the ebbs and lows.
One thing is clear here… Hamilton is not giving away its shot.
| September 23, 2020
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September 25, 2020
Diana Krall: "Stanley Donen and I were friends. We used to hang out quite a bit in New York. You didn’t know that about me. There are clues. We would go to the same restaurant, talk and have the most delightful time. He sent me all of his movies. That’s part of the reason why I play that song, to remind me of that time, one of my favorite parts of being in New York. [My producer] Tommy [Lipuma] introduced me to Stanley, and I felt very sad when he passed, so perhaps this is my way… a tribute to be paid. Somebody told me, though: It should be more upbeat. Nah. I think it should be just like this: minimalist."
| September 25, 2020
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