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David Poland

By David Poland

BYOB, 2/11/09

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30 Responses to “BYOB, 2/11/09”

  1. EthanG says:

    MetaCritic has a pretty good lengthy critical and box office analysis of all the studios…major, minor and indie:
    Unsurprisingly, Focus, IFC, and Sony Classics are among the only studios in the green critically overall.
    Of the majors, Disney and Paramount score a 55 to lead, Warners garners a 52, Universal a 49, Sony a 47…and who is surprised? Fox brings up the rear with 43 though it gets an A for Box office.
    Of the 21 studios the site ranked, only Screen Media fell lower…it released winners like “Spinning Into Butter.”
    Here’s a decent analysis of the indies on page 8:

  2. Foamy Squirrel says:

    Interesting – I always find myself rolling my eyes a bit when people claim that the cure to a studio’s financial woes is to “make better movies”.
    There are good movies, popular movies, and profitable movies, and the three are not always the same thing.

  3. Gonzo Knight says:

    Granted, good movies don’t translate into high profits but I still think that asking questions like how much more money (if any) profitable studios would have made if they made better movies is perfectly reasonable.
    Clearly, Paramount benefited from a good word of mouth on “Star Trek” when “Transformers 2” while seemingly critic proof arguably benefited from a well-received predecessor (I didn’t like it but the public at large seemed cool with it – goodness is as subjective a quality as anything else).
    So, the whole “correlation, not causation” adage seems true.
    By the way, I’d be very interested in hearing more about the distinction between popular movies and the profitable ones from you, Foamy.
    I’m not disagreeing with you, I’m just curious if you have something to add.

  4. Foamy Squirrel says:

    One of the easiest examples of the popular/profitable is the teen comedy – they usually star complete nonames and are dirt cheap, costing $10-15mil to make. They often aren’t complete smashes, but do in the region of $50-60mil domestic (or $100mil if you happen to be American Pie). Their post-theatrical is also pretty strong since they get picked up for filler material by TV stations, in-flight movies etc. even if the DVD sales aren’t that hot. They aren’t that “popular” but they certainly are profitable.
    On the flip side, Dave likes to point to Star Trek as something that’s popular but not necessarily profitable. I can’t claim to know too much about the back end business of it, so I’ll have to take Dave’s word (a number of commentators here have challenged him on it, so not everyone agrees). But certainly there are movies that have done $100+mil domestic that, due to various people taking a large cut of the gross, pretty much means that all the studios who put up the money get back is pocketchange.
    Words like “good” and “better” are pretty subjective anyways – is something “good” because it’s nominated for a lot of awards and critics rate it highly, or is it “good” because a lot of people see it and enjoy it? (which is why I lean more to splitting it between “good” and “popular”). But neither critical acclaim nor more bums in seats necessarily guarantees that your financials are going to be in the black.

  5. EthanG says:

    Yeah they’re clearly not one and the same as the article notes…Fox had arguably the best year financially internationally (and 2nd best domestically), but releases by far the shittiest movies…only Avatar and Fantastic Fox (which was a co-production with Searchlight) were critically praised.
    Disney and Paramount, which release better films, have been hampered by cash flow problems recently.
    I’m hoping the fact “Avatar” made so much $$ will help Fox and the other studios realize gargantuan blockbusters are usually somewhat decent…and if they aren’t, they usually are franchise sequels that frequently do serious damage to a brand despite raking in serious dough (unless it’s Twilight). See Matrix, Spidey 3, Pirates 2, X3 and probably now Wolverine etc etc.
    I think audiences are actually becoming more savvy…8 of the 11 films to get to 200 million domestic (including Monsters Vs Aliens which just missed) received positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic last year.
    With many major franchises about to end (Potter, Shrek, Toy Story, probably Narnia and Saw) it’ll be interesting if studios can up the ante in order to kick-start new ones.
    This weekend should be a good indicator. Valentine’s Day is supposed to spawn a sequel and Wolfman is supposed to re-launch Universal’s Monster Movies…but both apparently suck. Fox is making ANOTHER attempt to launch a successor to Potter (after Compass, Spiderwick, Seeker, Eragon etc) with Percy Jackson that is getting fairly tepid reviews.
    We’ll see how it works out…

  6. Gonzo Knight says:

    Of course, those things aren’t the same. It’s not even worth mentioning.
    What is worth mentioning, however, is that neither Rotten Tomatoes nor Metacritic scores should be considered the absolute authority on what’s good OR bad. It is a far, far better indicator of attitudes than it is of quality. Luckuly, the fact that they provide summaries of all the opposing views that you can access all in one place, usually does help get a good impression of what one is in for, thematically.
    (And as for Matrix, I liked the sequels and feel that the series reached a natural conclusion and that, more than anything else, really “killed” that franchise. It’s sort of like with the Terminator sequels, after T3 I realized that I’ve seen it all before and didn’t bother with TS. Never really bought the whole Spiderman 3 thing – still think reboot is unnecessary. Don’t understand how you can bring up X3 as franchise killer and then go on to list Wolverine among the films raking in serious dough.
    Call me cynical but the superhero genre as a whole has rarely been touched by greatness. That’s why, I simply don’t think that the franchises that managed to take off are really that easy to kill.)
    But I digress…
    I have to admit that when I brought up the whole “popular vs profitable thing” (a good conversation topic in itself) I was thinking of something slightly different. I should have probably phrased it as “the difference between popular movies and movies that actually end up with high grosses (essentially the same thing sans the budget considerations – i.e. not Star Trek). I’m thinking impact of piracy on popular films, internet hype or those movies you know everyone namedrops but no one actually sees. You know, “that” kind of popularity. I admit that I doubt there’s really much to add on that topic though.

  7. Foamy Squirrel says:

    “I think audiences are actually becoming more savvy”
    I think it depends on timing and where you draw your cutoff line. 8 of the top 11 are fresh, but you can drop that all the way down to 35% if you go to the top 23. For everything over $100mil domestic (which is how Metacritic defines a “hit”) you’re still looking at only 43.75% fresh, with an average rottentomatoes score of 56% (which counts as “rotten”).
    Plus the average tomatometer score is artificially inflated if you look at something like Star Trek which scores 94% – no way in hell virtually every critic scored it 5 out of 5, but the “yay/nay” tomatometer metric makes it seem that way.

  8. Foamy Squirrel says:

    If you’re looking at buzz vs. bums on seats the classic example is Snakes on a Plane. I can’t think of too many recent examples off the top of my head where the tracking has been completely out of line with the eventual box office, but I’m sure someone else will be able to offer examples.

  9. Joe Leydon says:

    Gonzo, I’m curious: When you refer to “movies you know everyone namedrops but no one actually sees,” are you referring to Rachel Getting Married, The Visitor, In Bruges and/or Frozen River? Not trying to dis any of these movies, but… well, last time I checked, even with their various Oscar nominations and great reviews, these movies did not earn a combined domestic gross of over $34 million.

  10. EthanG says:

    Agreed…though if you look at individual studio ratings there’s only a handful of films rated below 60 last year I even half-cared for personally (almost all WB films strangely) and I suspect that’s the case with most people. Fox drops from Avatar and Fantastic Four to Ice Age 3, Dragonball and Jennifer’s Body in a hurry.
    Wasn’t bringing up just franchise “killers” but sequels that made a ton but were very poorly received and led to either diminishing returns or the end of franchises. Matrix 3 made over $300 million less worldwide than Matrix 2 at least in part due to its poor reviews and the lesser reception to its predecessor. Wolverine was the first X-Men film to make less than its predecessors. Spider-Man 3 led to much wrangling and a re-direction of the franchise. The first Fantastic Four stinking didn’t help the second film even though it had Silver Surfer. Same with Daredevil and its spin-off. And so on….of course a lot of those films have additional circumstances, but it’s tough to argue that declining quality didn’t factor heavily into declining revenue streams. And it’s tough to start a new franchise if your fist film is poorly received.
    A good indicator of all this will be seeing how Toy Story 3 and Shrek 4 go. Also “Little Fockers.” The first film was loved, the second film wasn’t but rode the love of the first to massive grosses. Methinks things won’t go so well this time…

  11. EthanG says:

    “I think it depends on timing and where you draw your cutoff line. 8 of the top 11 are fresh, but you can drop that all the way down to 35% if you go to the top 23. For everything over $100mil domestic (which is how Metacritic defines a “hit”) you’re still looking at only 43.75% fresh, with an average rottentomatoes score of 56% (which counts as “rotten”).”
    I hear you. If you go below 200 million this metric is BS I agree. 12 of the last 16 films to hit that level were fresh. I also agree Rottentomatoes is only good for determining straight up good/bad and not overall quality which is what Metacritic is for…Star Trek is a 94/83…Blind Side a 70/53..etc
    I guess my point is you almost always get gargantuan films…domestically only if 1. They are good 2. They are sequels 3. They appeal strictly to a female audience or kids (Twilight, Alvin).
    Plus if its a sequel to a film with negative reviews, its pretty much guaranteed to see diminishing returns unless it’s way better than its predecessor.
    Internationally this just ain’t the case when you have Ice Age 3 off the charts. And there’s exceptions (Fast and Furious broke the mold by bringing back its Big 3 actors…Final Destination 4 by adding 3D).

  12. Foamy Squirrel says:

    Seriously, who at Fox brought in Dragonball and Chun Li, and do they still have a job?

  13. Even if a sequel is substantially better than the somewhat disliked original, its box office will still likely decrease (“the Tomb Raider trap”) just because audiences won’t take a chance a second time. Addams Family Values, Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life, Angels & Demons, and Prince Caspian all grossed substantially less than their predecessors despite being arguably superior films. I’d argue that Saw VI (arguably the best chapter of the franchise) fell victim to this as well, as the film vastly underperformed partially because of the blowback for the unremarkable and disliked (even by the fans) Saw V.

  14. Martin S says:

    After ID4, I thought it was not possible to detest Roland Emmerich anymore for the being the most blatant rip-off artist in the modern film history. Then he made Godzilla, and if he was present when I saw it, I would have hit ’em.
    Then, right after Godzilla, he tried to storm a UN nuclear proliferation meeting, yelling that old classic, “don’t you know who I am”?!
    Now, I read this…
    And here’s the kicker…
    “[‘Avatar’ has] just shown that if you do a movie in 3-D, you can ask for more money and that’s the trick.”
    When German financing pulled out, why didn’t they take him with Uwe Boll?

  15. Kambei says:

    Isaac Asimov’s Foundation: The Action Movie. Oh my god. This could be the most terrible mismanagement of a series of short stories better suited for tv since, er, “I Robot.”

  16. Sam says:

    “Even if a sequel is substantially better than the somewhat disliked original, its box office will still likely decrease . . . Addams Family Values, Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life, Angels & Demons, and Prince Caspian all grossed substantially less than their predecessors despite being arguably superior films. I’d argue that Saw VI (arguably the best chapter of the franchise) fell victim to this as well . . .”
    I would exclude Prince Caspian from this category, as it had a significant tonal change (action movie instead of adventure fantasy) that the marketing and even the choice of release date reflected. It simply didn’t look like what audiences liked about the first one.
    But I agree in principle, and I think it’s worth pointing out that it works in reverse. Shrek 2 made such absurd amounts of money because Shrek was such a surprise popular hit. Ditto Meet the Fockers and Pirates of the Caribbean.
    As Poland has pointed out, the box office reception of Batman Begins was, though successful, a little light for Batman — probably due to memories of Batman & Robin. But as word got around and people caught up with it, people got excited about it again, and that led to the phenomenon that was The Dark Knight. (The Heath Ledger angle was a lot of it too, admittedly.)
    But THAT film delivered EVEN MORE, which makes me think the next Batman movie is just going to have a *ridiculously* huge opening, even if it ultimately disappoints.

  17. EthanG says:

    Scott, agree with your less recent examples. “Da Vinci Code” certainly wasn’t that well-liked at all domestically though (at least with non-religious auds), and its name recognition vs “Angels and Demons” was much higher so Id say its a reverse example.
    Agree with Sam…. Disney thought Caspian would appeal more to teens…and were wrong which led to the end of the Disney/Walden partnership. That movie was the strange result of aggressively marketing to a new audience and leaving your old one in the dust. Putting it square between Iron Man and Indiana Jones in the summer didn’t help.

  18. hcat says:

    Disney sold Lion as Lord of the Rings with clean fingernails. Coming so soon after the trilogy almost made it a defacto sequel to the rings movies, however neutered the action was for the kids. By the time Caspian came around audience’s tastes had shifted some and it got trampled.

  19. hcat says:

    And I don’t know if there will be a sequel to Valentines Day but after that title and last years He’s just not that into you I think New Line will absolutly make these Irwin Allen romantic comedies an annual event.
    I think that it’s ironic that within a year of Robinov (or whatever his name is) saying that Warners would think twice about casting female leads, New Line turns almost exclusivly towards the female market and starts cleaning up.

  20. Cadavra says:

    Better movies would certainly help, especially with the over-40 crowd, but as always, the real culprit is runaway budgets. If guys like Eastwood and Clooney can turn out quality work on ultra-low budgets (GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK, with its period setting and all-star cast, came in at $7.5 million), there’s no reason why so many pictures (especially non-effects-driven ones) have to cost nine figures.

  21. Josh Massey says:

    “Irwin Allen romantic comedies…”
    Now that’s funny.

  22. Foamy Squirrel says:

    “guys like Eastwood and Clooney can turn out quality work on ultra-low budgets”
    Eastwood in particular is probably the most disciplined filmmaker today. His projects always come in under budget and under schedule. The guy’s a freaking machine.

  23. Stella's Boy says:

    “And I don’t know if there will be a sequel to Valentines Day but after that title and last years He’s just not that into you I think New Line will absolutly make these Irwin Allen romantic comedies an annual event.”
    I believe New Year’s Eve is next. I think I read that a writer has been hired and is currently at work on it.

  24. movielocke says:

    I came to drop a note on the Gurus this week and find my comment pertinent to the discussion of popular/profitable.
    confirmation and selection bias.
    If one likes a popular movie, it’s an indication that audiences are “more savvy” or that they’re “making better movies.” If one dislikes a popular movie it’s an indication that popularity and profits don’t count.
    In other words, you confirm your own view because your brain can’t handle the concept of being wrong.
    Or in the context of the oscars, if you like the frontrunner for the big award it’s “about the movies this year” If you don’t like the frontrunner for the big award it’s “the academy is STILL out of touch this year.”
    Gets old. It’s always about the movies, but more specifically about the experience of the movie. if it wasn’t about the movie experience Gladiator, LOTR, Chicago, Departed and Slumdog would have never won. The year it was ostensibly most about the movies and least about the movie experience was 2005, the year without a single audience-friendly movie nominated.
    Writers and journalists need to be especially aware of how prone they are to selectively misinterpreting information so that the information says to them only what they want to hear.
    Really? Is Dear John really going to affect Avatar’s oscar performance? That’s a reach, in my opinion, and a perfect example of selectively finding data and twisting it to make it say what you want it to say.
    Sasha Said in the gurus article:
    “The Oscar race is usually about the team who played it best. But this year it feels like it’s actually about the movie. That means that, perhaps, Hollywood might not be ready just yet to give up their nuts and bolts filmmaking and embrace the brave new world of computer-generated worlds and emotion-capture actors. On the other hand, maybe they are.”

  25. EthanG says:

    Sasha is one of the most indecisive bloggers out there in regards to Hollywood. She almost never takes a stand one way or the other and defends nearly every decision the Academy makes, whether it be Sandra Bullock emerging as a major contender or whatever. She almost never disagrees with the Academy year in and year out (Crash being an exception).
    I agree totally with your post movielocke. I still think profitability and popularity usually go hand in hand only with mega-blockbusters domestically except for female/kiddie films and occasional sequels.

  26. anghus says:
    I think you can now make the arguement that Avatar is a cultural phenomenon.

  27. anghus says:

    some interesting stuff on finke today
    “Don’t feel blue if you were left off the list for last night’s big party thrown by Jim Gianopulos and Tom Rothman for James Cameron and the Avatar folks at Jim G’s Brentwood home. Most of the guests were directors or stars or Fox hires: names included Steven Spielberg, Oliver Stone, Bryan Singer, Robert Rodriguez, Anne Hathaway, Gerard Butler, Roger Corman, Danny DeVito, Robert Duvall, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Colin Farrell, Hugh Jackman, Salma Hayek, Josh Brolin, Peter Saarsgard, Joe Carnahan, etc. ”
    Brian Singer was invited to a Fox party? I realize he’s back in their good graces now, but would anyone have seen this coming 5 years ago? Bananas?
    “Warner Bros is moving The Losers from April 9th to June 4th, one week before Fox’s A-Team. ”
    Could this move be any more idiotic? I want to see this movie, but why would i want to see it one week before the A Team? It’d be like opening Deep Impact a week before Armageddon.

  28. ployp says:

    This has nothing to do with the very interesting discussion but I had such a laugh. The documentary ‘Babies’ has been rated PG for “cultural and maternal nudity throughout.”

  29. EthanG says:

    Haha the MPAA folks seem to be having fun lately. Alice in Wonderland is PG for:
    “Fantasy action/violence involving scary images and situations, and for a smoking caterpillar”

  30. ployp says:

    Wow… a smoking caterpillar! Is it me or is the MPAA getting more and more specific with the explanation for their ratings?

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon