The Hot Blog Archive for January, 2012

New Blood At Fox

This will be quick…

I just wanted to note that Oren Aviv and Bumble Ward seem to be trying a lot of new stuff at the studio. Will it work? Hard to say. But one must appreciate the effort.

Last week, it was an afternoon with the filmmaker behind Chronicle. The movie is a month away and much to my shock, the crew that came to the lot that day didn’t mind that they were seeing six clips that would likely be released to talk shows and the like almost immediately. I mean, it was cool stuff, but in the land of movie publicity, pretty much what you would expect to be pushed out there without a thought. In making it a small event, embracing a mostly geeky group, they certainly created good will, if not some happy press coverage. (The premise of the movie is three teen boys suddenly getting a super power which they can increase the intensity of with practice. Imaging the most violent episode ever of The Big Bang Theory with underage Abercrombie models. So… teen and geek bait.)

I don’t really believe in The New until I see an entire movie (or two). And I reserve my judgement on the likely quality of this film. Clips is clips. But I do think the movie looks like it could break out commercially. And I write that as someone who had to look up the name of the film for info when I was invited to the event.

Having chatted with the duo, I think they understand as well as anyone that throwing a lot of money at a movie is no longer a sustainable model. Bumble, unlike MT Carney, is still tweeting away form her personal account… and now encouraging everyone else at the company to do the same. (She is not responsible for the Rupert tweeting.) Obviously, the cone of silence remains the cone of silence. They are in the business of strategically releasing films. But the idea that she is not afraid of showing her personality in public is counter to how most publicity chiefs play the game.

They won’t admit to the Prometheus stunt release last month. But they are out with a trailer pre-Super Bowl and even standees in theaters. Another studio’s exec pointed out how small the standee was at one theater. But my sense is that it is meant to be an amuse bouche as much as a standee. Anticipation is the money in the marketing game. Baby steps. This film looks like a monster to me. (As you can see, I am a sucker for pedigree.)

Like I say… the proof will be in the pudding. But I have a good feeling about the idea of truly experienced people seriously examining ways to change things up a lot. In a world of the same thing over and over and over again, it doesn’t take much to make something feel shiny and new-ish… mostly intent.


On The Bus With New Hampshire’s #2 Candidate




Doc Nomination Process

It’s easy to celebrate change. And God knows, the Doc nominating process at The Academy needed it. But let’s not lose the forest for the trees. Here are the problems that no one else seems to want to talk about in public.

1. The new system effectively disallows docs from effectively using Academy nominations and/or wins to slingshot a doc commercially without spending a lot more money. A significant percentage of docs have done this, including winners like Born Into Brothels and Taxi To The Dark Side.

2. The new rules purport to be, in great part, about keeping docs that are really “tv docs” trawling for awards from getting in the way of “real” theatrical docs. Of course, the committee system has had no problem “protecting” the nominations from such films.

As best I can tell, you have to go back to 2004 to find a movie funded by HBO – the largest US funder of docs, along with PBS – that’s been nominated. Born Into Brothels also happened to win that year.

Man On Wire, which also won, was funded by Discovery Channel, though like Brothels, it got a theatrical run after it drew intense attention at Sundance. Brothels, however, didn’t have a “real” release until after it was Oscar nominated. Before that, ThinkFilm did 7 weeks on a single screen.

So were these “real” theatrical docs?

Is a film like If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front, another strong film by Marshall Curry, “real” because Oscilloscope bought rights and put it on between 2 and 5 screens for 9 weeks, grossing $61,794 and got reviewed by the Timeses of NY and LA?

Is a film like Public Speaking, another doc by Martin Scorsese, “fake” because Rialto released it (output deal?) and squeezed $62,173 in single screen engagements over more than a dozen weeks, and not getting reviewed by movie critics at the Timeses because it was a movie funded by American Express and played first on HBO?

I’m not making an argument for either one here. But how many arguments are there for or against these films? Did Martin Scorsese make a faux documentary? Is it more theatrical to make the same amount of money in theaters before TV than after?

The Academy Doc Committee certainly has a right to set their own standards. But as you examine each movie and get past the platitudes, the differentiations get more complex and less easy to dismiss.

3. Film festivals are now to be a non-issue for doc qualification. So, if 10,000 people pay to see a documentary projected in movie theaters at film festivals over the course of the year, but the film doesn’t get good theatrical distribution and feels compelled, for financial reasons, to make a TV deal, it becomes faux?

4. If the idea is to open up the process, why would the documentary committee put more blocks on films being considered than are put on regular feature films? OR for that matter on Documentaries that would choose to submit for Best Picture and other category consideration? Not every film that plays in NY and LA for a week or more submits to The Academy.

Is it really in the best interest of film to make the field smaller by creating additional barriers to entry?

5. If the concern is that branch members can’t manage to watch 10 films a year, why would anyone assume that branch members would watch as many as 40 films over 4 quarters of the year?

So let’s assume that branch members watch 25 docs a year. Which ones will they watch?

Box Office Mojo lists 93 docs last year that appeared on 2 or more screens. 39 docs made over $100,000 in domestic release. So what percentage of docs that the branch watches, on their own, will be from the majority of docs that have theatricals but do not make much money? 10 docs grossed over $1m domestic. Are those 10 likely to be on the most-likely-to-be-viewed list of branch members?

6. Why is there any need for a short list?

What’s the point? If opening up the branch vote to nominate is a good idea, why not trust it to nominate without a short list?

If the idea is to narrow focus at some point, why not multiple layers of such focus. If 5 branch members nominate the film as their top choice, it goes on a list. Is that list 15 or 25 or 40? No idea. But if 5 or more members feel it’s the best of the year, isn’t it worth considering?

Then take it down to 15 a month later, with each film needing at least 10 votes.

And then, another month later, down to the 5.

Os some such system.

In Conclusion – I am truly thrilled by the idea of opening things up and allowing docs to compete more like the regular movies compete. But the rules that are proposed are both more open and less open. The entire academy should vote on docs and DVDs should be distributed to all members.

So why the restrictions? Do you trust an open system or don’t you? If you don’t, fine. But don’t add a moral component to the business of distributing documentaries. Because as soon as you explain what a “real documentary” is to someone, someone else, who is not just being facile, will disagree. With due respect, if The Academy Awards were mean tot reflect Michael Moore’s personal position on docs, it would be the Michaels, not the Oscars. “I want it to be open and I want to be a policeman too” just doesn’t make sense.



What can one say?

Some choices seem a little odd. But again, from a very small pool. Zzzzz…

I am kind of amused that not a single Guru picked Fincher to get nominated. Just goes to show…


DP/30: Buck (One Year Later), director Cindy Meehl and subject Buck Brannaman

At Sundance 2011, just after the film’s premiere…

Twitter Discussion On New Academy Doc Rules

I guess this needs to be read from the bottom up…

(btw, the conversation is still going on at Twitter.)

Weekend Estimates by Klady Insurge

It lightens one’s heart to see A Separation and Extremely Incredibly with almost identical grosses and per-screens this weekend. True, both are just on 6 screens and neither is a world beater, financially. But the Iranian drama vs the Hanks/Bullock Oscar bait film… a reminder that in some places, on some numbers, critics still have the power to support a film and give it a boost.

It’s only fair to note that the powerhouse in exclusive release this weekend was The Iron Lady, which is not so beloved to critics, but did more than double the per screen of either of the other movies on just 5 screens.

This puts me in the mind of Oscar, so let’s take a look at where the contenders now are at the box office…

As you can see, I have split the group into films I think have a serious chance of being Best Picture nominated at this point… and those that don’t. The bolded grosses are films that are either out of theaters or on so few screens that nothing is really going to change in the numbers.

As you can plainly see. the frontrunner, The Artist, is at the very bottom of the Top Contenders list. Harvey Weinstein has a month or so to get that number to at least $50 million or the Rule of Failure will kick in and some other film will win. Yes, The Hurt Locker happened… but that was a true freak in Academy history and there is no Avatar to play David versus.

On the high side of the chart, you can see that War Horse, even without a push from Globes wins or Oscar nominations, is likely to pass Moneyball before the final Oscar vote. With Dragon Tattoo as a bit of a BP longshot these days, That will make the film the #2 on the list. And in the last 20 years of Oscar that had 5 nominees, only ONE Best Picture was not #1 or #2 at the domestic box office amongst the nominees. That was American Beauty, which was #3.

In the Ten Nominee world, we’ve had a #8 and a #4 win so far. But The King’s Speech was close to $100 million domestic when voting closed last year and went on to do $135m domestic. I don’t think it’s a 1-2 world in a 10 nominee universe. But you have to be seen as a hit… again, Hurt Locker being a happy freak.

Hugo will end up passing Midnight in Paris domestically. But the latter is seen as the hit and the former seen as a financial miss. The Help and Moneyball are also seen as overperformers.

This is not a top-of-mind issue for Academy members. But don’t underestimate the significance of the perception of success.

Like I said, Harvey needs to hit the gas soon or incredibly hard once nominations come out, or he’s going to get left behind, no matter how much Academy members love his film.

OHHHH… and the stupid horror movie…

Great marketing by Paramount. Not cheap marketing, but excellent marketing. Massive profits.

Mission:Impossible – Ghost Protocol is chugging along because it’s quite good… for a Mission:Impossible movie. Great start of a live-action career for Brad Bird. I guess he was right to turn down The Golden Compass all those years ago, waiting to find the right vehicle.

And no shit for Sherlock 2, as that film, once written off, could conceivably get to $200m domestic. Also now looking even more like it will hit a big landmark, Dragon Tattoo seems to be finding a broader audience as the new product slows to a crawl and people are looking for a film to watch after they’ve seen M:I4.

And the doom and gloomers are still out there… our own Len Klady wrote this morning, “Already industry cheerleaders are proclaiming a reversal of fortunes but it could be as easily an anomaly. It could all change (or not) with next weekend’s bow of Contraband. Regardless the general mood among insiders is tetchy.”

As I keep writing… it’s the movies, not some national mood. No honest journalist could look at the entirety of 2011, see that the ENTIRE down amount was reflected in Q1 2011, and continue to talk about a “slump” in the fall and holiday. Numbers are not about whether we a disappointed in our expectations. Numbers are about f-ing numbers. This weekend was up 27% from last year. Fine. Only an idiot would say that they now can reasonably project the box office for the rest of the year, much less that is will be up over 20% from last year because of this weekend.

The is almost no doubt that Q1 2012 will be up from Q1 2011. Last year’s first quarter was weak. But mostly, it suffered from an Avatar and Alice hangover, much as Q1 2005 suffered from a Passion of the Christ hangover.

The real question is how much the Star Wars 3D re-releases will earn… and Titanic 3D in Q2, for that matter. Underworld X, Chronicle, Ghost Rider 2, The Lorax, John Carter, The Hunger Games. These are the movies that will define the pre-summer portion of the year. And with luck, one or two surprise big movies to boot. Contraband? With due respect, bullshit. $25 million opening max. $80m domestic cap. No one should be shocked to see it beat by Beauty & The Beast 3D for the top of the chart next weekend. It’s still January, damn it.

So don’t expect me to be ringing the bells for a return to theatrical if the next few months are up 10%… or even 20%. No one is “coming abck to the cinema” because no one left. People come to the movies they want to see. And as The Devil Inside reminds us all… it doesn’t matter whether what they get when they arrive is any good. It’s about wanna see, not really liked.


Summit Summed Up

38 films in 5 years, when all is said and done.

9 films with a domestic gross over $50 million (that’s including the final Twilight in the count).

You can literally count their years in Twilights.

Year One: 5 films, none grossing as much as $25m… and then, Twilight
Year Two: 8 films, 2 grossing over $20 million, Knowing almost gets to $80 million… and then Twilight 2… and a Best Picture Oscar for one of its commercial failures, The Hurt Locker.
Year Three: 6 films… 2 earners over $20 million domestic… Red becomes biggest non-Twi hit with $90 million …and a Twilight in the middle.
Year Four: 6 films … 2 nice grossers against budget… 2 big 3D bombs and a Beaver… and then, a Twilight
Year Five : We’re one film into what would have been the company’s second 8-film-and-a-Twilight year. Look for the last film – aside from potential sequels – to carry a Summit logo to be, of course, Twilight.

Twilight was a great call. Red, Source Code, and Letters to Juliet were good wins for the studio. $35 million for 50/50 is worth a big smile and a hat tip.

That’s about that.

There are others who got their $300 million and did less with it.

Lionsgate, by the way, has had two $100m movies in their entire history… neither of which they made… one of which they didn’t even acquire. They’ve released 19 straight films since The Expendables without a $60m domestic grosser. They’ve released 57 movies since Summit released their first. They’ve had ten $50 million domestic grossers in that period – 4 from Tyler Perry, 3 for r-rated horror. But they have basically gotten out of the hard-R horror business since Saw 3D in October 2010. Good timing… for Paramount.

Six of their twelve films in 2011 grossed under $1.5m domestic and another grossed $3 million. The one modest non-Perry success was The Lincoln Lawyer, flopping with Conan, Hussein, Bane, and that abs kid from Twilight (to be fair, ABduction will make a little money thanks to foreign… which were pre-sold).

Everybody should be happy with this deal… except Lionsgate shareholders, who will pay for it soon enough.


Gotta Love National Society of Film Critics

Giving out awards for 2011 in… wait for it… 2012!!!

And then, the choices. You can argue any of them or all of them if you like. But Melancholia for Best Picture and Terrence Malick for Best Director are not ” by the book.” Pitt, Dunst, Brooks, and Chastain are not just cookie cutter choices to Win. Yes, they haven’t gone far off the reservation, though wouldn’t it have been nice to see one of the other major critics groups embrace Melancholia back when they might have made a difference.


Friday Estimates by The Devil Inside Klady

(Corrected… thanks to movieman)

I am put in mind of The Exorcism of Emily Rose, the second highest opening Screen Gems film of all time… and that was 6 years ago. That film was cheap too. And it was a marketing coup. The big difference is that Devil is an R and is being sold as a very hard R. Emily Rose was a PG-13 threatening to have R-rated content in it. But based on the Paranormal Activity 3 weekend, The Devil Inside could end up just incrementally ahead of Emily Rose’s $30m launch.

Regardless, what is completely clear is that Paramount has now built a legitimacy with the people who are looking for a good scare with the Paranormal franchise and is exploiting it with skill. They have taken over Lionsgate’s abandoned niche. And while it is true that running a company the size of Lionsgate based primarily of horror films is not a good business model, the attempt to become a reflection of a traditional studio has been a bit of a bust as well. Meanwhile, a company with as much product as Paramount is thrilled to have another low risk/high publicity cash cow to milk amongst the Mission:Impossibles and Star Treks… especially with DreamWorks out the door.

Paying close attention SHOULD be the indies. It’s easy to dismiss this film and Paranormal as stunts. It’s also easy to forget how much marketing/publicity money is really behind these projects… a lot more than the indies have. But still, there is a piece of business there that has be able to scaled down to a good model for indie as well.

Mission:Impossible continues to… HA!… cruise. Over $400 worldwide and I think there is a word-of-mouth marketing effort that could still be launched into the weakness of January. Meanwhile, Sherlock 2 is certainly going to be well off of the first film in the franchise. But a $300m worldwide grosser with Sherlock Holmes? If the crew involved wants a third film, they can make it work financially for WB and do it. But the next one has to be sharper. Holmes needs a new girlfriend. She needs to be a third wheel in the Holmes/Watson relationship. And it would be a perfect slot for Amanda Seyfried or the Michelle Monaghan of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, not M:I3.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is likely to be a profitable disappointment, short of the monster hit that I thought it could be, but still well into the (real math) black ink once it goes foreign. But $100m ain’t happening here. But that’s Fincher, ain’t it? Surprisingly, only Se7en and Ben Button have ever cleared $100m domestic for him… and 7 just barely.

Disney is pretty happy with how War Horse is doing. No doubt, the next hope is an awards push from The Academy. And, of course, foreign.

We Bought A Zoo is neck-and-neck with War Horse, though they don’t have an awards future or much foreign to look forward to, as Crowe is an international hero with Cruise and not without.


DP/30: War Horse, Team Kaminski, Kahn, Carter, Burwell


BYOB 1512


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