The Hot Blog Archive for May, 2010

DP/30 – Kites: The Remix star B

mp3 of the conversation


Nut Job John Nolte Confuses "The Black List" With The Untalented

Someone sent me a rather insane screed by this guy, John Nolte, who tries to keep right-wing hope alive at “Big Hollywood,” Andrew Breitbart’s silly site. (“Want to hear why the #2 box office film this week is going to get your daughter raped by Commies? Click Here!”)
It’s not really easy to pile the Old Media LA Times and EW, gossip sheet Movieline, and self-acknowledged left wing site, The Huffington Post into one conspiracy. But this guy tries really hard.
You see… there is a conspiracy against conservatives… and you need to know!!!
One guy, Jonathan Kahn, is a victim of Patrick Goldstein because Goldstein has the temerity to point out that he has never had a film career to speak of. But it turns out that this guy does have a relationship in the record business, as noted in the Wall Street Journal…
“One person stunned to hear of Mr. Kahn


Art Linkletter Does The Darnedest Thing

I never expected to meet Art Linkletter, much less send him some very large checks.
But I did.
This was about 20 years ago now. I was running a company that middle-manned celebrities into ads and appearances. A guy named Curry Walls, who has eliminated the job from his bio, was running the company before I got there and did the deal to put Art Linkletter in Contour Chairs, which were sold in 30 and 60 second spots, just before the infomercial craze started up. Art got a piece of each chair sold and we got a piece of his piece. There were multiple 6-figure checks each year.
Linkletter was already well into his 70s – which seemed much older back then – and was pretty much retired. But he was sharp and very precise in every encounter over those couple of years. He never seemed to be chasing his former fame. He just WAS.
He and Robert Vaughn and Lee Majors and Fran Tarkenton kept that business open and me in silly suits and sports cars that I didn’t really belong in at that age. But I remember him fondly… respectfully.
And I liked watching him on TV as a little kid too.


Review – Prince of Persia

The analogy isn’t really Pirates of the Caribbean… it’s the The Mummy series.
PoP is better directed than any of the Mummy movies. It’s less well cast. It’s terribly written. And it seems to be paying respect to the gameplay of the video game to an obnoxious extent at times. But if you enjoyed the Mummy experience, you’re not likely to be sorry that you went to the theater to see this thing.
To really enjoy it, you have to be looking for a retro experience and show some serous generosity of spirit. For instance, all the British accents on these “Persians” and arabs of other stripes… not to mention the darkening make-up. Now, I went with this. If you can’t, you won’t make it past the first 5 minutes.
My sense is that Mike Newell decided to make an old-school Brit desert epic… there are no Caucasian characters to complain about the “wogs.” But it’s so overt – Gemma Arterton’s Arab princess has such a clipped accent, she could be playing the young Judi Dench giving an elocution class – that it can’t be anything but intentional.
Literally the only major character who actually is his own ethnicity is The Black Guy… played by a guy who is actually Black, Steve Toussaint. (Of course, he too is a Brit pretending to be ethnic.) But not a brown guy in sight… nowhere within an under-5. Lead “Hassanisan?” G


Disney On ABC

Someone’s assistant tried to sell what she claimed to be insider information to hedge funds, saying that Disney was selling ABC. The cost of this info. $15k.
Problem is… she and her boyfriend sold the info to the FBI.
Disney says… in full: “The Walt Disney Company has been fully cooperating with this investigation.
The reference in the complaint to conversations regarding the ABC Network were and are false.”

And so it goes.
The idea of Disney further divesting itself of businesses it built up under Michael Eisner is intriguing, I must say. And the network business is sinking… though there is no reason for it to sink altogether… and the fantasy of a VOD world is 90% of the current pricing away from reality, though it appears to be Uncle Bob’s vision of the future.
Shelf it for now.

Hollywood Reporter Gets Its Gossip!

After not landing gossip queen Nikki Finke, The Hollywood Reporter followed in Nikki’s boss’s footsteps – Bonnie Fuller is already the dominant force at, according to insiders – and hired Fuller’s wake runner, Janice Min.
We can all gnash our teeth over it, but it makes perfect sense. Huffington Post has been forced to resort to running soft-core porn to keep their numbers up… and are still losing money. Deadline is not a money maker. The Wrap needed more money after a year in business. So how do you revive a dead trade? Make George Christy your editor-in-chief.
I must admit… if I was consulted on the future of THR, this would have been a big part of my suggestion too. Jason Binn it up. Be running photos of Hollywood partying every single day. If you might be in it, you’ll want to look. If you aren’t in it for sure, you’ll probably want to know who was.
Who’s your top columnist, if you can get her? Sharon Swart. Find a way to get Bill Higgins to give you 5 years. Hire Patrick Goldstein away from LAT, since what he is best for now is his relationships, which have led to goopy insights as an analyst, but can offer lunchtime grist for the mill for a tabloid trade that actually cares what sides Brian Grazer had with his meal.
It doesn’t need to become like the real tabloids… pregnancies and break-ups and who wore what best. Play to the constituency and you can make a mint. Without worrying about journalistic issues, THR should be replacing Carlos de Abreau’s buy-a-table-win-an-award scam by the fall. The Key Art Awards can become a celebrity event… it’s already got better sketch comedy than The Oscars.
This move screams to me, “We know what The Trades always were… but now, we have to lower the price to get audience back into lavishing us with unwarranted advertising.”
Be the whore.
Live the whore.
Love the whore.
It’s not journalism. It’s not pretty. But it is the best way to keep a dead idea alive.
And in the meanwhile, they can tip their hat to Nikki and Sharon for taking over the old model, which is just as corrupt, but expends endless energy trying to pretend it’s not. Good luck with that, ladies.
Great idea… Sir MIx-A-Lot as the celebrity spokesman of the paper! Home run!
ADD, 3:25p – Janice Min talks to NYT
In an interview, Ms. Min said she wanted to revive coverage of a tumultuous industry.

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Money & Morons

How can I be blunt enough about this?
If you are positioning the Shrek Forever After opening as a huge disappointment… you might be a moron.
if you are out peddling some crap about how this opening speaks to how people feel about 3D or ticket prices… you might be a moron.
If you are pushing an agenda that has little, if anything, to do with a bigger opening than ANY Pixar movie has ever had… you might be a moron.
I am SICK TO DEATH of entertainment writers taking their expectations of box office, based on tracking and spin and rarely any facts, and forcing the stench of failure onto a success. And conversely, hyping mediocre numbers into An Incredible Event every time they get surprised by something doing decent business.
It becomes news AFTER it happens, you foolish people. And after it happens, you should feel free to analyze it to your heart’s content using real facts and figures.
How To Train Your Dragon opened to a weekend 60% smaller than S4. Yet Dragon has been hailed as some kind of phenom in many journalistic circles because it held a little bit better than most animated movies, which tend to hold better than most other genres.
Meanwhile, the same idiot market analysts who hyped up an opening like Shrek 4 are now extrapolating until the cows come home trying to explain its failure… when it hasn’t failed. It’s a nightmare. (And of course, this comes from the geniuses who brought you, “UP is going to drag Pixar’s brand down” and “Ratatouille is too French to do business” and of course, “Kids will never sit through the silent part of Wall-E… downgrade Disney!!!”)
And don’t even get me started on the ticket counting fools out there.
All I can say is… take a fucking breath, people!
Right now, S4 is ahead of UP‘s first four days… which led to $730m worldwide, which would leave S$ about 10% off of Shrek The Third if it can maintain a strong trajectory. Would that still be written up as a failure or a disappointment… or are we all just stupid?
In the end, it doesn’t really matter and I should stop reading all the terrible journalism about box office. It doesn’t really change the revenues. Even the analysts are wrong so often that it doesn’t tend to affect stock prices. But as a journalist, it is embarrassing. And as someone who ends up explaining what the reality is to a lot of smart people who are believing whatever stupid spin is popular out there, which holds the ADD-addled interest of wannabe box office writers until Sunday brunch, it is infuriating.
Please don’t think that I am saying that everyone who has a different take than me on these things is a fool. There is plenty of room for disagreement in principle. And I am certainly capable of an incomplete thought that leads me astray from the core reality of a particular situation. But as when I criticize film critics for going herd – which I still assert happens 2 or 3 times a year in a big way, positive or negative – it is when it feels like someone threw a not-very-thought-out idea against the wall and then everyone seems to follow, each rationalizing it in their own way (so as to draw attention), that I am driven to distraction.
It’s lazy thinking. And while even a broken clock is right twice a day, it is usually wrong.
And then someone brings up A Christmas Carol… whose opening was overly attacked… which Disney didn’t actually expect to open much bigger… but which Disney did hope would hold a lot better into the end of the year. So… in the end, it was a clearly disappointing number vs expense. But that didn’t make the overly aggressive write-off of the film at opening the correct perspective. It was an incomplete perspective… that turned out to be closer to the end result than not.
But that is the rarity.
Conversely, The Dark Knight opened much better than I ever expected. But that didn’t mean that it was really ever going to challenge Titanic… and it didn’t get withing $800 million of the then-record-holder. Being wrong about one thing does not mean you are unable to stop, think, and analyze based on where you are after your misstep
On the third hand, when I am right about something like Avatar, literally from Day One, that doesn’t make me RIGHT either. I was actually wrong about how massive the film’s gross might actually be… about a billion dollars off. But I was closer to the end result than most. But it’s all a puzzle. Sometimes history is helpful… sometimes it throws you way off. Sometimes a leap of faith takes you somewhere great… sometimes to the toilet. And when we all start writing about expectations, it gets very, very blurry, very , very fast because whose expectations and which of that individual’s expectations, etc. No one funded Dark Knight with the idea that it would have a $100 million opening, but by the time it opened, had it missed that mark, WB would have been disappointed. No studio funded Kick-Ass… full stop. But when this hard R comic book movie opened to just under $20 million, it was like someone had died. Are we all nuts?!?!
If there is one thing I can encourage, whether you think my takes are right or wrong, is to really think and to be serious about finding perspective, even in the short term. Just because everyone wants to be first, to fly to conclusions, to come up with the hot angle, does not mean that thinking, caring, smart people should not rise above the breathlessness of the culture around us.


Tweet du Jour

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The Danger Of Shortcuts

The Drudge headline…
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The actual story.
Not a review.
In fact, the normally scrupulous Guardian kinda crosses a line here by running this story about how two movies ruined the TV show… without, apparently, having seen the second movie.
The author writes, “Judging from the hideous trailer and even more hideous scenes that have been leaked on the web.”
She adds, “(C)ould a cinematic experience be any worse than that SATC film (part 1) was? The answer from this Friday, when SATC 2 opens, looks set to being in the affirmative (and I warn you now, this article will be full of spoilers, spoilers of both the film and your memories of the show).”
Every spoiler does seem to be from the commercials and trailers. Is it possible that she saw the film and is trying not to break embargo? I guess. But by claiming spoilers and speaking so definitively about how the 2 films have ruined her memories of the series, she blurs the line with clear intent, if unclear purpose.
Is it journalistically responsible to condemn what you haven’t seen… even if I assume she is right about “2” sucking?
Is this in any way “The First Review?” Or is it just another desperate attempt to get ahead of a story that hasn’t happened yet… even from one of the best outlets for movie coverage in the world?


Chris Klein Is Middle Aged

I guess Funny or Die is the new Jay Leno’s Couch for embarrassed celebrities.
I didn’t find this particularly funny, though I appreciate Klein being game. Much more surprising to me… at least here, Chris Klein look more like the high school teacher than the high school student. And indeed, Glee’s Mr Schuester is 8 months older than Klein. American Pie was 11 years ago. Sigh…


Ticket Prices

I don’t get all these stories about rising ticket prices.
Somewhere in all of them, the actual facts are there. But there is an odd obsession with pushing this story about massive increases in the average price.
There is a massive increase in the additional price for 3D… and an even more massive increase when an IMAX premium is paid in addition.
But a few simple facts.
Going into May, all four of the top grossing films in 2010 were in 3D (Avatar, Alice In Wonderland, How To Train Your Dragon, Clash of the Titans). Over $1.2 billion grossed domestically in 2010 between the four of them… or about 1/3 of every theatrical dollar grossed in this country through the first four months of the year.
Again… rough numbers… but say those films had, with IMAX counted, a 25% bump, divided by being a third of the total tickets sold, equal a little over 8%… or about what NATO said was the rise in ticket prices from the year before.
But the flip side of that is that there was probably zero rise in base ticket prices. That is, until this month, when most chains tend to raise their prices by 25 cents, summer in and summer out.
The problem I have with all this noise about it is that it feeds into misconceptions about the future of theatrical… again.
There are 5 or 6 movies coming out in 3D the rest of this summer. Toy Story 3 is clearly The Big One. We’ll see houw The Last Airbender – a late, cheap conversion – plays. I can’t imagine any more than $300m combined domestic in the rest.
In other words, if these films represent $1 billion domestic in a $4 billion summer, average ticket prices should actually go DOWN this summer, even with an actually small price increase in the base price of all films.
Will the hysterics report on that?
Or will they be forced to and then spin it into some kind of negative with a convenient stat like “tickets sold” going down?”
We’ll see.
What I am feeling inside the industry is a well-founded fear that the 3D business is overreaching already and that increasing ticket prices for often unnecessary 3D will soon turn off average moviegoers. This is balanced by a group that wants to change the whole system and hopes to use the misunderstanding of the facts in stories like this “rising ticket prices” thing to push their agenda forward.
Interesting times.


The Stupidity Of The 30 Day Studio Window

The Wall Street Journal broke a story that Time-Warner Cable was making a pitch to studios for a 30-day VOD window for a $20 – $30 price point.
It’s moronic.
But it’s also interesting.
It’s another iteration of the ongoing interest in figuring out whether VOD will ever really work… because it still doesn’t on a studio level. It never really worked at 24 weeks… it doesn’t really work at 16 weeks… so “let’s try it at 4 weeks at a premium (though non-“fight”) price.”
WSj notes the DVD downturn as a motive for all this window-bashing… and I don’t know if the authors know how right they are. Studios, it is seeming more and more, are looking for The Next DVD… and they are willing to be reckless to try to create it when it cannot be created.
The sad part of this idea – the 28 day window – is that it is wrong in almost every way. Besides cannibalizing theatrical, which is now more important than it has been in a decade, it seems to completely misunderstand the market. In the arthouse world, things are quite different… anything to find a wider paying audience is worth the risk. But for studio movies, I have never seen a study of any kind or any historic fact that suggests that the audience that wants to see wide release movies will be motivated to pay a premium for home viewing after 30 days of not going to the movie theater… and we are talking about pricing that is roughly the cost of two movie tickets.
The one category of films that might work in this 30 day idea is blockbusters that have a lot of buzz after 30 days and may have an audience of impulse buyers.
But again… big problem. The vast majority of impulse buyers of movies are… under 25s. But they don’t control their own purse strings, as a rule. The first time the cable bill arrives with an extra $50 charge on it for a single viewing of MacGruber and Iron Man 2 is the last time Billy gets to buy VOD in all but a tiny percentage of households where money is loose.
The value proposition for high priced PPV is diminished dramatically by a 30 day window. If you are going to jeopardize the theatrical window, you might as well just take the leap to day-n-date and see how it works with non-franchise movies. My take is that after a honeymoon of a few months – people love to kick tires – it starts being a clear loser. But let’s find out.
The slippery slope here is that you start the experiment with the $20 – $30 idea. It has mixed negative response. So the logical next step is adjusting the price. But as the price drops, the cannibalization starts to grow.
What journalists who write about this subject tend to miss is that the “old-fashioned” idea of windows in the marketplace is not actually what I think anyone in the industry thinks is the future. Right now and for years now, there are five or six windows. In the future, there will only be one real window… between theatrical and post-theatrical.


BYOb Sunday

Anything to say about Cannes?
Anything else?


Weekend Estimates by MacKlady

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Shrek Forever After (or is it Shrek: The Final Chapter?) is in a very odd position. It’s the fourth best opening weekend in animation history… but somehow, because the last two opened so huge, that is a perceived failure. It will certainly gross over $220 million domestically and is more likely to end up in the $250m range, making it the fourth Shrek film in the Top 10 all-time of animated films… but anything short of $300m will be seen as a failure.
Part of this is the insanely high bar created by the first three films. And part of it may well be that DreamWorks Animation has built itself up to being a consistent $200m domestic performer and this Shrek will not, like the last two did, blow that normal number out of the water. Remember, Shrek 2 is still the #3 domestic grosser in history.
In any case, when the film being written off by so many critics as happily the last in the series is a Top Ten performer in its genre and still outperforms every other animated film its very successful company has made outside of that franchise, it’s easy to undervalue what should be qualified as a success. (And for the record, unlike other summer movies that gross strong numbers, but which I then question the fiscal validity of, animation is reasonably budgeted vs $200m-plus domestic grosses. Success is an issue of degree and expectation, not the potential of red ink.)
Of course, the biggest question for this film, delayed by the World Cup, is international box office. Will it be $200 million… $300 million… $400 million? That’s where the profit margin will be determined.
Iron Man 2 is looking like it will match the first film domestically. But in the weeks to come, things will get interesting vs Prince of Persia and then, I think, The Karate Kid, which could grab every eyeball that is still interested in repeat viewings of IM2.
Amazingly, Robin Hood could end up finding a way to $100m domestic. It might even find a way to $300m worldwide, which would make it Ridley Scott’s 3rd highest grossing film… though $260 is more assured. Still, if you believe the cost estimates out there, it’s still not enough to get this film to profit.
MacGruber is an interesting Rotten Tomatoes story. 54% seems awfully high, considering how much traditional critics seem to hate it. Only 3 critics from what could be considered major outlets were positive in their reviews. One was Joe Leydon for Variety, who saw the film in the midst of SXSW hysteria. Does being in a room that LOVES the movie help a critic think the better of it? (I’m sure Joe will soon offer an opinion.) Robert Abele, freelancing for the LA Times, liked it enough for a fresh tomato. And Peter Travers, aka The Great Laydown, gave it quotes… no surprise there… if they advertised world wars, he’d find a way to praise Hitler with an exclamation point.
But my point isn’t to kick the couple of mainstream outlets that praised MacGruber. I haven’t even seen the film. I will look forward to seeing it on Starz next year. But what’s fascinating is that RT, which is used like it’s the NYT of film criticism by far too many people, is showing its ass here. It’s not like the film is “Fresh.” But even 54% “Fresh” is misleading here. It’s 80% “Fresh” for people who saw it at SXSW and about 20% “Fresh” for people who did not. By not showing the film until the last hours before release, aside from SXSW, the distributor kept the “Top Critics” (read: Traditional Media) group down to 12 reviews (25% fresh… based on the 3 reviews I already mentioned) from the normal 25 or so. And the overall group of people included in the rating, normally over 200 for a wide release, is down to an ironic 69.
In other words, Universal made RT their bee-otch on this one. I am guessing that the Tomato Ranking will fall under 40% in the next week or so… maybe lower, as more reviews come in.
Either way, Ryan Kavanaugh loses money on this one and Universal just wasted their time. MacGruber would have been a great day-n-date VOD title at a $10 price point. A very niche piece that might just be of enough interest to that core group to generate strong numbers… at a price… in a very short window.
After all the hullabaloo about Babies not opening the way people thought it would, it’s now over $5 million and is one of the biggest documentary grossers in the last couple of years. Only Michael Moore, Disney’s Earth, and the self-distributed right-wing cult project, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, have grossed more in the last two years. That would be a success, folks.


Friday Estimates by Leonard Shrek-y

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Shrek Forever After just didn’t get ticket buyers as excited as DWA and Paramount would have liked. Personally, I blame the confusing ad campaign that didn’t really address what the story of the movie is… “What The Shrek Just Happened?” means nothing if you don’t know that Rumpelstiltskin has managed to send Shrek back to the beginning of his journey.
These numbers would be good for most other animated films. 60% better an opening day than, say, How To Train Your Dragon. But a bit soft for Shrek. Pretty likely, the opening weekend ends up in the mid-70s to mid-80s. But there were those calling for 100m+, which ain’t happening.
Iron Man 2 is still runing $25m ahead of the first film… but is slowing faster. This Friday estimate is about $1m off of the first film’s third Friday. We’ll see how it plays out over the 3-day. In the meanwhile, foreign is still the main story here, with IM2 passing the first film’s total international gross sometime today. Disney and Marvel will have to determine whether they are getting into dangerous territory here, as the international market is often a movie behind domestic in terms of giving up on a weakening franchise. IM2 should be at least $100 million bigger, worldwide, than IM. But next time, that may signal a smaller gross for the third film… or not.
Letters To Juliet is now past Remember Me and will break the $30m Summit glass ceiling… establishing the $40m glass ceiling… about half of Dear John… but an improvement for the company.
MacGruber opened to about 25% less than Hot Rod. Look for a $4 million weekend and a $10 million total domestic gross. What does it mean? Only that even the geeks didn’t really turn out for this one in force. I guess they are waiting on Get Him To The Greek for top geekomdy.
Just goes to show that Relativity can even lose money on a $10 million one-off with a strong SXSW geek kingdom push. Skillz. (Universal, btw, suffers only the embarrassment of association and wasted marketing team time on this one.)


The Hot Blog

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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