The Hot Blog Archive for September, 2010

Squeezing Every Ounce Of A Press Release

What do you get when you try to mix two billionaires with their two pet media projects and two of their other businesses?

A bit of a press release blur… but at least the release, sent at 10am, was embargoed until noon.

The punchline is that Starbucks aka Howard Schultz aka The Top Wrap Backer made a deal to add SnagFilms’ aka indieWIRE owner Ted Leonsis’ free catalog of 1600 non-fiction films to its “Starbucks Digital Network,” which is supposed to launch this fall. I wonder what kind of customer will spend hours sitting at “Bucks watching Super Size Me for free while they milk a tall Sumatra. But they know their business better than I do.

As for what the Starbucks Digital Network will be, MSNBC wrote: After researching what people are doing before and after they enter its stores, Starbucks teamed with content partners to offer customers digital one-stop shopping for their activities. When customers log into Starbucks’ Wi-Fi network, they will come to a splash page for the Starbucks Digital Network that they can either explore or navigate away from.

Review site Zagat will let users look up local restaurants for dinner after caffeinated drinks. Runners, bikers and walkers will be able to plan their routes through Rodale on geo-targeted maps highlighting Starbucks outlets. Patch, a community news site, will provide Starbucks patrons a chance to learn about events in their neighborhoods. Nonprofit will suggest local educational projects they need funds.

Oddly, the news channel of this Starbucks enterprise includes New York Times, USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, but not The Wrap or indieWIRE. Maybe that’s tomorrow’s press release. And really, it should be. Starbucks branding would be a big deal for both businesses.

You can read the somewhat schizophrenic press release, if you like, after the jump.

Read the full article »

The New Barnums Offer Cheap Streaming TV… Because They Don’t Pay A Dime For It!

Yet another scumbag company seeking to steal money out of everyone’s pockets (yes, you too, unions) is claiming “we’re just giving people what they want” and are now suing the networks in anticipation of being sued as they launch their “business.”

This is even less complicated with TV than it is with news content. If you don’t own the rights, you don’t have a legal right to control the content. “It’s good for the consumers and we’re expanding the networks’ business” is about the same as “she was asking for it… and she liked it” in defense of a date rape.

All that said, the nets and studios have no one to blame but themselves for the line getting blurrier and con men like those selling ivi TV trying to take advantage. The industry, in a bit of disarray, is going forward with Everything/Everywhere by allowing people they are in business with in some form to try anything at anytime at any price. Who is going to control content? Do cable and satellite companies really have the rights to offer free or paid streaming of what is on their systems to their customers? HBO is building their own streaming site. Paramount, Fox, and Universal are partners in Hulu and now, Hulu-Plus. Etc. So who will ultimately put shows on your portable devices for you? Which team? Whose control? Ultimately, whose profits? (And again, how does the union get paid or were the most recent deals with AMPTP so bad that the people who make the shows are a non-isue moving forward?)

The one thing that is clear to me is that creating a streaming business out of your basement with everyone else’s content, for which they have paid small fortunes, must be illegal, much as reprinting a New York Times or Variety story on your website page, without a syndication agreement, as though you owned the content.

People who choose to believe that “if you can get it, it’s yours to publish as you like” are almost as dangerous as those inside the industry who like to claim that this is a runaway train, never to be brought back into the station. It’s not. Nowhere close. But this is where the record business analogy really does make sense for the first time… it could get out of control if the studios and networks don’t get a firmer grip on the future instead of letting it slowly roll out in a way that seems so random that there could someday be traction to arguments in courts that limitations on streaming only to established institutions – which are not paying real fees – is anti-consumer.

And for those who think this is just a question of Big Business making Big Profits, remember that it all ends up being reflected in how money is spent to create content. Besides a company like ivi TV (“We put the IV in the networks arm and steal their blood so you don’t have to!”) not having contracts with anyone, allowing them to avoid all and any payments to unions and the like, there is also the harsh reality that if these kind of bloodsuckers ever got just 5% of the revenues, overall, it would trickle down to the productions and on each show, it would cost real people some real money. If you believe in unions and the people who are supposed to be protected by them, you have to believe that controlling the revenue stream is important, because the price will always be paid by those on the bottom of the food chain long before those at the top allow it to keep them from making their third house payment.

This does not mean that AMPTP’s predatory behavior with the unions – and the unions’ trouble seriously pushing back against the death of their own middle classes – is anything less than a horror show. But in the end, someone has to pay $2 million an episode for a TV show in order for every individual to get paid. And if the margins get worse and worse because of leeches, no one wins.

DP/30: State of the Union – Christine Vachon, producer


TIFF 2010: Photo & Video Array (all on iPhone)

Up On The Roof (of the Park Hyatt)

The sad future of sell-thru DVD?

Kat Dennings & Josh Lucas do an interview for Daydream Nation in the back seat.

Sitting on the panel at Roger Ebert’s Tweetfest on Saturday afternoon

Will Ferrell clowns around (a little) at the Everything Must Go premiere


BYOB for a New Week

Since landing in LA, not much posting, not much Tweeting.

This will soon change. But for now…


Weekend Estimates by Klady – Easy Town

(Tardy writing… 7p… football and family… and not much to say…)

So not only didn’t Easy A chase down The Town, Affleck’s latest was actually quite muscular after its Friday launch.

Devil reminds us again that Screen Gems is not an easy act to imitate. Not a horrible launch… but not surprisingly strong, given the marketing pedigree.

I’m Still Here, expanding to 5x the screens and still doing less than $1000 per screen is a tribute to how publicity can fail to draw a crowd. They must be hoping Phoenix’s Letterman slot this week turns the corner on the VOD, if not the theatrical.


Question du Jour


Never Let Me Go, screenwriter Alex Garland & novelist Kazuo Ishiguro

Toronto Sales

So… the count of sales coming out of the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival is a dozen. Some would have the count at 14, but that would be counting 2 sales that undeniably happened before the fest. And I would say there are a couple more on that border. But 12. Out of about 80 films on sale.

The number is not terrible, given the market for markets. But I am fascinated by the sudden rush to put TIFF on our shoulders and to proclaim it as savior. (Note: I have been saying that TIFF is the most important festival in the world for years… and multiples more important to North America than Cannes.) Perspective, please.

Sony Pictures Classics will release 20 films this year. They picked up 2 “at” TIFF, one of which went into distribution in its native Canada this weekend (Incendies) and the other of which was a pre-fest deal with producer Robert Lantos, with whom they have a long happy relationship, for another Canadian film, Barney’s Version.

That’s it for the studio Dependents.

The are only two significant pick-ups out of TIFF so far this year, in my opinion. The first is Lionsgate grabbing Rabbit Hole, which will be very difficult to sell commercially, but could kick in a Best Actress nomination for Nicole Kidman. As noted here before, the sale was contingent on a 2010 release and campaign, which will leave LGF competing in the Actress category with its own For Colored Girls….

The second weighty pick-up is The Weinstein Company paying a preemptive $3 million for Dirty Girl, which is widely seen as a “we’re still here” deal. (The distributor also picked up Submarine, a well-liked tweener… exactly the kind of film the company has been unable to launch over the last few years.)

After that, we are into the significant, but definitively second tier of rising and wannabe distributors.

Oscilloscope is a beautiful place and picking up the next Kelly Kelly Reichardt film, Meek’s Cutoff, is no surprise. But getting Wendy and Lucy to almost $1 million was an achievement and this new film is generally seen as less accessible.

Roadside Attractions is hard charging and picked up the doc, Cool It, before TIFF. They are also involved with Lionsgate in picking up The Conspirator and Everything Must Go… but it’s not completely clear what these deals really are. Are they really Purchases or are they Service Deals, pieces of business in which Lionsgate will pay Roadside to handle distribution while they look for profit in DVD?

IFC, which is the digital-leaning version of Sony Classics, really, hasn’t hit $3 million with a film since they went to the VOD concept and that high grosser was the Joan Rivers doc. They should do fine for SUPER, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, and Peep World, but no one high profile film goes to a major fest hoping that IFC will be their home. Again, I think IFC does a great job in the context of their aspirations. I am an IFC fan. But in pure business terms, IFC is a really good state school that you end up at when your first choices say, “no.”

Anchor Bay got a theatrical to $6 million this last year, so their transition from DVD distrib to theatrical is going okay. They grabbed another dead child movie, one that’s more controversial (they must hope) than Rabbit Hole, Beautiful Boy, which sports two very strong performances by Maria Bello and Michael Sheen.

Then we have the genre arm of Magnolia, Magnet Releasing, grabbing the well-liked niche film I Saw The Devil. Great… but $200k is about their theatrical top.

And finally, two brand new distributors grabbed two films. One, Casino Jack, has a strong Kevin Spacey turn and a high-profile subject… and now, an unknown distributor in ATO Films.

Women Make Movies describes itself as a “national non-profit feminist media arts organization whose multicultural programs provide resources for both users and producers of media by women.” Great. But Kim Longinotto is a major documentarian and I am not sure that WMM, a terrific organization, counts as a Sale. It’s much more like a small video deal for Pink Saris that is being positioned as a Sale in a tough market.

And there will be more deals in the wake of the festival. Someone will take Beginners. When Errol Morris is ready to make a deal, Tabloid will be sold. Someone – probably Magnet – will bring 13 Assassins to the US. Daydream Nation, Henry’s Game, The Vanishing on 7th Street, The Ward, and The Whistelblower will all land somewhere, depending on the deals and the marketplace. Even What’s Wrong With Virginia, well hated as it is by so many, will find a place with a strong VOD plan.

What is interesting, to me, is that a few of these titles are the kind that were sure bets… and no longer are. A movie like The Whistleblower should be getting Oscar-chase interest for Rachel Weisz… but was late in the festival and may be too serious for buyers. Daydream Nation isn’t hard to see as Easier A. Screen Gems could take the elements of something like The Ward and open strong.

That is the story of TIFF 2010, in sales and otherwise… it is an effective domestic launching pad because it is so close to the release dates. And it is a great festival for people who love movies. But as a market, it is, like all the others, just not how movies are really sold anymore.

(edited 3:19p, as I didn’t know Potiche had been sold)


Friday Estimates by Klady

Can Easy A, which I believe will ultimately outgross The Town by a good margin domestically, catch up with with Mr Affleck this weekend? Possible. But maybe not. It will be interesting. Easy is probably Date Night fare for under 30s and Town for over 30s. So they could both have nice Saturday numbers.

Rogue’s push, with full support of Big U, for Catfish is paying dividends. For a doc, this opening is in (small) Michael Moore territory.

As for the other big indie launch, Never Let Me Go is running, on 4 screens, about 50% behind An Education. Of course, Mulligan’s First had 8 months of hype (starting at Sundance), an October date, and no media confusion with another big title with her opening right on the tail of the smaller film. It was also lighter fare. Flip side, NLMG is a very well known book and has generated more discussion about meaning. Education was the lowest grossing BP nominee, when nominated, in the last awards season. Even so, it seems to me that Searchlight should be pushing this horse a little harder… even with two more commercial awards candidates coming up on their slate.


BYOB – Return To LA

… and to the blog.

I’ll start vomiting up the rest of the view from the last 10 days as the weekend progresses.


TIFF In The 3rd Quarter

It’s an interesting moment, for this year’s fest and TIFF in general. Movies are selling… but not for much. Crowds are enjoying the new Lightbox… but it’s not quite done yet. The press screenings are in one part of town and the press events another.

Do thousands of media types come here for a 5 day press junket or to discover new and exciting films? And the question extends beyond that, in that TIFF continues to indulge – as they understandably feel forced to – those who bring their films here with a dramatically overloaded and preordained opening weekend. As a result, TIFF “discoveries” are films from Fox Searchlight, The Weinstein Company, and the occasional arthouse superstar like Herzog or Errol Morris.

Thing is, great is great and full steam ahead. It’s hard to be unhappy about quality films. And it’s just fine to have some disappointments. But shouldn’t all of this effort somehow lead to more than what would have happened if the was no TIFF?

Of course, there is no cart pulled without the horse and often, we just can’t tell the difference between he two.

The move downtown needs to be complete next year – people are counting on the Ritz Carlton to save the studio and other publicists’ interests – or the festival needs to do some serious thinking about returning all press screenings to Yorkville’s Varsity, where they can also do evening screenings. And the fest needs to be really clear on the housing opportunities around the festival village. Really, it’s a new organ on a great festival body. But it’s almost as they need to reinvite the participation of those of us from outside of Canada, not matter how powerful the fest is. It was the most comfortable fest of this level to cover. Now, it is not.

Anyway… lots of movie coverage to follow, now that I am coming up for air. But the clear winners so far are Searchlight, Sony Classics, and The King’s Speech. They will not be alone. But right now, they are the boldfaced names.


The NEW Reporter

The NEW Hollywood Reporter is, as I have been saying for about a month now, smart. And though the NYT piece doesn’t quite get around to saying it, it will no longer be a Hollywood trade. The owner’s arrogance about the rest of the coverage of Hollywood is a bit comedic. But who cares? In the end, they are doing another variation on a weekly gossip rag, more on Vanity Fair’s turf than on Variety’s.

Sharon Waxman should probably be – and probably is – more worried about her business model than THR’s. Unlike The Wrap or Deadline or indieWIRE, MCN has actually been a profitable business… but a modest business. (NOTE to NYT: The Wrap going into the conference business is not a sign of growth, it’s as sign of a desperate inability to make a living on content.) When any of these truly industry-focused businesses – spending to try to replace what was the old trade model – see black ink, let me know. You just can’t spend like the three of them have spent and expect to make money. But in 2 of the 3 cases, making money is not really the point.

I would agree with Sharon’s comment about THR making money if they were remotely interested in her business. They really aren’t. They won’t be Oscar ad dependent. They will also never get Oscar cover prices of the past. But they will see P&G and Amex and Gap ads that no current “industry” site or print outlet can.

As for THR’s paid circulation, it is under 25,000. There are some who would tell you that the non-Oscar Season circ is well under 15,000, paid and otherwise. And THR will give away a lot more magazines than they sell in the next year or two. But in the end, they will, I predict, get up over 100,000 mark in weekly circulation, expanding the market to an audience that isn’t in the industry at all, but wants to feel like they are getting special insight. I would expect all familiar industry reporters to be out the door before the end of 2011, unless they are willing to work for peanuts (less than now) while others get paid big money.

So welcome to the neighborhood, THR2, and don’t worry, no one will care much when you turn out to be living in Calabasas and not Hollywood.

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BYOB 9/13/10

Yeah… neglected the blog… so goes TIFF…

The good part is that you get Kat Dennings, Josh Lucas, Alex Gibney, Shia LeBouff, Christine Vachon, Paul Giamatti, Thandie Newton, Hayden Christensen, Rosamund Pike, Vera Farmiga, Keanu Reeves, and Kevin Spacey as Jack Abramoff and James F-ing Caan… amongst others. The bad part is that I have been quiet.

Here is some room to play.


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