The Hot Blog Archive for April, 2012



Non-Trailer Trailer: Prometheus 2.2: David 8

And check out the “David site


DP/30 @ Sundance: Little Birds. writer/director Elgin James

In honor of Elgin getting back onto the streets and back to work…

DP/30 Playlist: Ebertfest 2012

I’ve never created a DP/30 playlist before. But here is a group of interviews for four of the Ebertfest titles this year, as well as a John Patrick Shanley from one of his other films, and some extra interviews with talent from these festival films.

Another Moronic Analyst: Variable Movie Ticket Pricing

How can it be that people whose entire careers are about analyzing the film business can be so profoundly ignorant about the industry they cover… their beat… and not only like a journo’s beat, but these palookas are telling people how to invest their money!

Today’s ignoramus, coughed up by the LA Times without really considering how stupid the analysis is, is Todd Juenger, a senior analyst at Bernstein Research.

He notes, brilliantly, that “nearly 93% of theater seats go unfilled, he said, including 99% between Monday and Thursday.”

Yes. I have been pointing out this dirty little secret of the film business for over a decade. If a movie has a $5440 per screen average for the weekend (as #1 movie Hunger Games has this weekend), that’s a maximum of about 775 tickets sold per “screen,” spread over 5 showings, across 3 days. So, you’re averaging 52 people per screening in rooms that seat at least 120. But it’s worse than that, as most house are bigger and for the #1 film in the country, there are likely more actual screens than the screen count.

However, the entire industry, distributor and exhibitors, has changed how they do business in the course of the last decade or so, in part because of this. That is why they are capable of having an opening like The Hunger Games in 2012, which would have functionally (not literally) been impossible in 2002.

Of course, guys like Juenger – whom I don’t know – look at a “problem” like this and assume that they were the first person to notice it. It’s not like NATO (that’s National Association of Theater Owners, Todd… not the ‘boom boom” people) and all the individual theater owners and chain owners have ever considered this issue, right?

Variable ticket pricing, like variable VOD pricing and shortened Home Entertainment windows for wide-release films, opens the door to a lot more than “the negative perceptions that would come from some new offerings costing less to see than others.” The single biggest problem is that it creates price competition in an industry that is not consistent in its product, not easily predicted until a couple of months out (in general and for non-sequels) and often inaccurately even then, and has a history of creating trouble for itself by increasing prices too much (see: 3D). There is nothing more suicidal than basing an industry-wide plan on the potential success of a few sure-fire outliers.

Remember, the reason Lionsgate had The Hunger Games to open… and Summit had Twilight… is because other studios didn’t step up to the plate to make them. So while it is easy (and moronic) to hypothesize about how much money THG could have made on opening weekend if only the tickets were $1 more apiece, you have to understand the Hunger Games that is now in front of us is not the issue. There are a ton of variables on the way to a mega-hit. And the realities of changing the system will have a greater impact on the majority of films that are not pre-sold.

It’s a digression, but our idiot friend also deigns to include international numbers in his “THG could have opened bigger” analysis, but does he even know whether the opportunity was maximized overseas? Could WB have done better? And for that matter, would a movie cost more – relative to average tickets – to see in a market it does well in than in a market it’s not so big in? Would Bond tickets cost 40% more in England than in Germany? (I’m making up numbers… no idea how these markets match up on Bond.)

And what of Home Entertainment? If THG costs $10 an average ticket and Stooges costs $7.50 a ticket, what do the DVDs or downloads cost?

But back to Variable Pricing by Juenger…

Let’s start with Juenger’s reference to Wal-Mart’s alleged variable pricing on DVDs… he does get that Wal-Mart is getting out of the DVD business as quickly as it can, right? Discounting has not been enough to make the floor space worth it for them to stay in that quickly dying game. So much for that analogy. (“Todd Juenger wants to do for theatrical what Wal-Mart is doing for DVDs!” I can see the forum at CinemaCon now.)

And unlike the mentioned airline and hotel inventory that Juenger uses as an example, movies are not – with the rare exception of the big sequel or hot franchise film – a “need” commodity. If you are going to Boston to see the family, you need transportation and you need somewhere to stay. No one ever NEEDS to go to a movie. And when do airlines tend to discount? Well ahead of travel, not on demand. Yes, there are cheaper airlines. But those airlines have a fixed offering, so when making a discount decision, you are making based on those stable considerations, not the projected weather that day and whether it is going to make you queasy on your flight.

When do hotels discount? Not when they think the housekeepers have neglected one part of the hotel while keeping up another. They discount based on demand in that city in that period. And again, quality and location. But those two elements do not vary when the pricing shifts. The 5 Star hotel is still significantly more expensive than the 3 Star hotel in almost all circumstances.

Back to movies, how much math does he think the film industry wants to put its customers through in selling their content?

Now… the reality is, variable pricing for movies already exists. I can choose, where I live, to see a film at a nearby theater and pay max retail outside of NYC. Or I can drive 20 minutes and see the same film, presumably at the same level of quality projection, for 20% less… in the valley. Or, as is noted in Juenger’s thing, I could go to a matinee.

But Juenger makes the huge mistake that so many have… to assume that movie attendance is primary driven by price considerations. This only seems to be true in the broadest of terms, as in the deep discounting of second run theaters (now a rare thing) or big added costs, as in 3D bumps of 25% – 35%. But even Juenger isn’t suggesting 30% price bumps for a movie like Hunger Games. Nor is he suggesting $5 tickets for Lookout.

The costs of tickets are the most significant as a percentage of the cost of the experience for those who, generally, are not paying for their own tickets… the under 20s. For the over-30s, who have kids, for instance, 5 hours out of the house can mean that $20 for a pair of tickets is 20% or less of the cost of a night out.

More simply, do we think anyone who didn’t go to Lookout this weekend was going to go if it was $2 cheaper? Does anyone actually believe that people are going to take off work or take the kids out of school for the Tuesday matinee because the movie they didn’t really want to see that much is now $3 cheaper per ticket?

Personally, I do believe that the film industry would be well served by a revival of second run theaters, set at a price point around 50% of opening weekend, starting 6 or 7 weeks out of release. It would serve exhibitors well, whose revenue is primarily driven by bodies, not by the money they take from the tickets. Keeping exhibition healthy is in the interest of the industry. And it would produce incremental income for the distributors. Would there be some cannibalism of first run? Yes. But exhibitors would still be earning a living. And I think there would be more earned in a new/resurrected window than lost in the launch window.

Reasonable people can argue this.

But Variable Pricing? No. It’s a reactive idea, not proactive idea.

And we haven’t even discussed how these variable prices would be set. By tracking? By opening weekend? HSX? Nikki Finke, who thought The Three Stooges was going to open bigger… until it didn’t and she erased her claim to know better than Fox?

Do we have ads for Bridesmaids, claiming that the film is going to be a phenomenon, so see it cheap on opening weekend before the price goes up?

Thing is, if you start doing any of this on an ad hoc basis, you destabilize, by design. The margins are too low in this business for such destabilization to be anything but a deal breaker.

One last analogy. I now shave with a 5 blade razor… you know, the kind they made fun of on SNL years ago. It is insanely expensive per blade. But it works magnificently for me. If they lowered the price, more people who don’t need all those blades as much as I do would try it. But 3 blade and 2 blade razors would lose customers. Meanwhile, you could give me a 2 blade razor for free and I would still happily overpay for my 5 blade. But if a 4 blade razor was available for half the price of the 5 blade, I might try it and if it just meant another minute, pulling it across my face for a few more strokes, I might leave the 5 blade.

Now… was that a confusing jumble? Welcome to Variable Pricing. And as we speak, subscription models for shaving are developing because the best blades have become so expensive. That’s Netflix for blades, folks… post-theatrical.

Theatrical has an eco-system. I don’t really understand how theater owners over the last 4 decades have been at peace with so many empty seats either… but they have been there for those 4 decades and even rebuilt their businesses from the ground up (after conversion multiplexing was the trend for about 15 years).

But Variable Pricing would, again, do for theatrical what it’s helped do for DVD… devalue and destabilize a healthy market.


Weekend Estimates by Leonard Joe Klady

This is one of those weekends that just made sense. No real surprises.

Fox was a little late on focusing on families as the target for The Three Stooges and, to my eye, left another $5m or more on the opening weekend table. But still, number was as expected.

Lionsgate kinda squirted out The Cabin in The Woods with a peek-a-boo ad campaign that didn’t reach beyond the already pre-sold Whedon lusting base. Symptomatic was the release date. Why would you open a film “From the director of The Avengers” and “starring Thor,” three weeks BEFORE The Avengers? I remember a bunch of years ago when The Machinist sold to Paramount Classics at Toronto and the producers insisted that the Christian Bale movie opened before Batman. Dumb ego. Is the goal to get people to see the film – in that case, really worth the effort – or to remain above such petty things? Just sayin’.

Lockout is another such oddity, if you believe, as I do, that Prometheus is going to make a major stamp on the summer. So this is the time to release a Guy Pearce action movie? Oy.

Bully expanded to 158 screens, doing good business for a doc, and not very good business for the amount of hype as a cultural event that it stirred up.

Perhaps a surprise, a soft opening for Intouchables in French Canadian cinemas. $7k per is a nice number, but not in the realm of the massive worldwide numbers for the film. Harvey, you’re at bat is coming.

And solid starts for Music Box’s Monsieur Lazhar and Strand’s Here.


Friday Estimates by Insatiably Hungry Klady

As expected, The Three Stooges looks to open in the high teens, though Saturday could be a surprise if Fox has gotten the message that the film is kid-friendly across to parents. This is a solid success for Fox, yet Blogger Nikki Mengele has managed to put Fox in the position of appearing to apologize for their Friday number, even though it was actually in line with their projections. Event the idea that the film could crack $20m – still possible – was just enthusiastic, not wrong headed. But when you indulge stooges, you get poked in the eyes a lot.

The Hunger Games continues in the #1 slot, though obsessing on slotting remains the sign of box office ignorance. The THG numbers are more than the sum of four weekends at #1. The film has been neck & neck in the speed grossing department with Star Wars: Sith, but will start to separate as the weekend continues. The question is whether THG can maintain the legs to get to Sith’s $380m domestic number or, for more recent comparison, last year’s #1 movie, Potter 7a ($381 million). The summer could stop the film’s momentum before that happens. But still, the film is already past Twilight and looks to end up at least 15% ahead of Twilight’s best. And foreign will be better than the first Twilight for sure… whether it will be as big as some of the others, we shall see.

The Cabin In The Woods is Joss Whedon’s latest underperformer… though Joss Whedon didn’t direct the film. Drew Goddard did. And for Drew Goddard and Lionsgate, a pretty good opening. The standard for horror is $20m, set by Screen Gems, and it won’t be there. But it will be in Lionsgate’s top 10 openers of the last 3 years. Given that half of that list is Tyler Perry & Hunger Games, no excuses need be made for this number… unless you thought they should do a better job selling a movie starring Thor and produced by the director of the upcoming The Avengers.

Lockout leaked out. I don’t know what the hell happened there. Open Road jumped in after FilmDistrict, which is still pretending to be in business, looked for a life boat. But it was a half-hearted effort and the number is surprising large considering that. Now if they can come up with a similar number for the no-budget charmer Safety Not Guaranteed, it will actually be pretty good. But… sigh…

Intouchables is only in Canada right now. The Weinsteins have it opening here in May. This is the biggest non-English-language worldwide grosser in history with over $310 million. Kind of mind-boggling. Unsurprisingly, US critics reviewing out of Tokyo or France have panned the film for many of the same reasons some critics got sniffy about The Help. TWC has been so focused on Bully that they really haven’t focused on this film yet, though it seems to deserve their full efforts. It will be interesting.


U of I Student Doc on Ebertfest 2011

Mini-Review: The Three Stooges

Simply put, I kinda love it.

The elegant stupidity of The Three Stooges has been effectively resurrected by The Farrellys. After many attempts to put together a movie star version of a Stooges film, they landed on three actors who can blend into the spirit of what they are doing. (Not that I still wouldn’t pay double to watch Sean Penn, Benicio del Toro, and Jim Carrey slap each other around.)

It is the joy of Tom chasing Jerry, Elmer and Daffy trying to keep up with Bugs, Wile E. Coyote vs Road Runner. It is as primal as watching someone slip and fall. No matter how much we sympathize, unexpected bursts of intensity are funny.

And The Three Stooges has a very specific kind of feel. Curly always brought the sweet childish innocence. Larry always knew what was coming, but endured it, somehow knowing the pain would soon end. And Moe led the way as blindly as any general.

One of the deviations from what you might expect in a Stooges movie is that The Farrellys get into the emotion subtext of this enduring relationship. They do it in a gentle, slightly melodramatic way that you might expect from a silent film. But the questions are asked. Why is Moe the leader? What keeps the trio together? What is the depth of the aspiration of the trio… especially as most of the old shorts were centered around jobs into which they fell?

But mostly, it’s about how funny it is when people are hit by surprise. Hit with a hand, poked in the eyes, crushed between two things, crushed by a large object, and a Farrelly favorite… having clumps of your hair pulled out from any hairy part of the male body.

Like My Week With Marilyn or Walk The Line, the new Stooges mimic the old Stooges without being pure imitation. They take a lot of the details, but they also are giving real performances in there. Will Sasso, as our new Curly, not only adds his own physicality (he looks to be about 20% larger than Curly was), but his clothing becomes a character in the film, his suit jackets almost acting. Sean Hayes channels the Larry Fine voice to perfection… really, close your eyes and try not to think it’s the real thing. But he is active in scenes while he is not the center of the gag much more so than I recall Mr. Fine being. And Chris Diamantopoulos, who you will have a hard time recognizing from “Up All Night” or the Charles Schwab commercials, brings a range to Moe, keeping his temper in a range that carries a touch more of the awareness of his role as the leader than the original Moe ever did.

Of course, the scene stealer here isn’t Jennifer Hudson as a nun or the SI Swimsuit covergirl in a nun-kini, but Larry David as Sister Mary Mengele. It’s genius casting. It’s right in David’s narrow range of acting craft, but it also allows him to show the real rage that he never allows himself in other contexts. It’s as if Larry’s version of Larry on Curb Your Enthusiasm suddenly doesn’t care whether he is accepted socially…. in women’s clothes… a nun’s habit to be exact. It’s worth noting that Larry David played a version of Larry Fine on Fridays, the SNL knockoff he starred in eons ago…

Even the way The Farrelly’s negotiate the inclusion of Jersey Shore… it’s pretty perfect, both in the integration of those performers and Moe’s relationship with the show and the idea of success and celebrity.

It’s easy to oversell this movie. It still looks like a Farrelly movie. And it’s still The Three Stooges. But it’s an awful lot of stupid fun. And it’s great for the family… unless you a very sensitive to eye-poking. A true PG, not a PG-13. And certainly one of the best 5 movies of the 35 released widely this year to date.


A Passover Treat: Enter The MATZOI

DP/30 Emmy Watch: Necessary Roughness, actor Callie Thorne

BYOB 41112


NYT Bends DreamWorks Story Into Mush

The New York Times got a nice scoop today… that Reliance will move forward with funding for DreamWorks, in smaller numbers, but moving forward.


Six graphs of actual facts. Excellent. And then they get into a mess, trying to do analysis of the initial push by the company, now a large production house, without much more than the easy, oft-repeated reasons/excuses/misinformation.

1. “DreamWorks has had to rein in its ambitions partly because of broader weakness in the movie industry.”


I know that the NYT has continued to sell the slump that they stepped into by an obsessed and incorrect Sharon Waxman in 2005. That’s 7 years ago. I know that the NYT is infallible, but you got it wrong. Give up the spin.

The questions around DreamWorks’ funding are about the first seven films the Reliance-funded version of the company (DW 3.0), not about the same steady decrease in ticket sales we have seen for over a decade or the pulled-from-ass shot that European box office is “troubled.”

The same “weakness” that NYT is somehow blaming for the financial failure of Dinner for Schmucks, I Am Number Four, and Fright Night, and especially, Cowboys & Aliens is the same (earlier in the alleged erosion, actually) “weakness” that saw DW hits with The Help, Real Steel, and War Horse.

2. “If they’re having a rough go, what does that mean for the rest of the industry?”

It means nothing. Only people who really don’t get this industry see it on some mass continuum, where everything is connected. This is just not the reality. Movies are sold individually, especially in the theatrical marketplace. Trends do come and go. But the box office is as strong or as weak as the interest in the crop of movies released every week, month, quarter, and year.

Journalists have convinced themselves that, say, dividing the Hunger Games gross against whatever the Q1 ticket prices average that is announced by NATO, tells you almost exactly how many people saw the film. But it, obviously, does not. It does not take the percentage of tickets sold at discounts into account. Or the films in the market that quarter getting a 3D bump. Or whether the film had a higher or lower concentration of tickets sold in bigger or smaller cities. Etc, etc, etc. Can you probably be comfortable that you are within 20% by that form of estimation. Yeah. Probably. But while, as of this week, Hunger Games has grossed 50% more than The Lorax domestically, the number of tickets sold is surely a lot closer than that (though continuing to spread), as more Children’s Tickets are obviously sold for The Lorax.

Meanwhile, as a journalist, you don’t get to write off The Hunger Games, for instance, when you are trying to sell the lie that people aren’t going to the movies anymore. (As in, “Attendance in North America has perked up in recent months (largely because of Lionsgate’s huge hit The Hunger Games.”)

Firstly, again, attendance is a jackass way of measuring success in the industry. Reliance didn’t look at the Tickets Sold stat to decide they weren’t thrilled with how DW was doing. They looked at dollars and cents… which is ALL that counts. No one outside of exhibition makes money, loses money, gets a bonus or a raise or fired for Tickets Sold.

So looking at the money, the box office was up 16.7% this year through Feb, before Hunger Games ever showed up. THG spiked that up to 23.7% through March.

Think is, unlike the NYT and others, I don’t go around selling this as a renaissance for theatrical, any more than I accept the lie about slumps. Theatrical will continue to lose eyeballs as we continue to see an increase in competition for eyeballs for the very same product via new or improved delivery systems. Absolutely. But to paraphrase Charles Foster Kane, if exhibition loses 2% a year in tickets sold for the next 50 years, they will still be there for another 50 after that.

Everyone struggles. Lots of people with weak track records get The Big Hit. Happens. This business is a business of gambling. DreamWorks had a better year in 2011 than a number of studios have had in recent years… but no one is taking about closing those studios’ doors? Why? Infrastructure keeps the ship from sinking fast. Four years of famine and you’re in real trouble. One, and it’s par for the course.

3. I don’t know why the Paper of Record can’t do the math that clearly suggests that DreamWorks’ kick-off year was a tale of two Dreamworks… but that shouldn’t keep others from doing it.

Here is some incredibly simplified math. DW 3.0’s first four films cost at least $360 million to make and $225m to market and distribute. Therefore, they earned $546m in theatrical gross and $300m in rentals (money returned to the distributor) against an investment of $580m.

DW 3.0’s next three films costs about $200m to make and $150m to market and distribute. The return was $676m in gross and $370m in rentals.

In other words, these three films were just about profitable in theatrical alone (largely because of the low-cost, big return The Help), while the first group of four films were at least $280m in the hole, seeking to dig out with post-theatrical revenues.

4. History Helps

When Paramount took on DreamWorks in 2006, they released seven DW films… and only Dreamgirls was a hit. Over The Hedge was a modest grosser by DW standards and Flushed Away was one of their few outright flops.

In 2007, there were nine Par/DW releases, including hits Norbit, Blades of Glory, Disturbia, Transformers, and DW Animation’s Shrek The Third.

But the thing to really look at is the developing relationship with DreamWorks Animation and the existence of a franchise like Transformers (which started before Par acquired DreamWorks). Transformers is the only piece of DW product that grossed over $120m domestic, aside from animation (which is, literally, a separate company). It’s very hard to build a film studio with mostly singles and doubles, the occasional triple, and no home runs.

For a growing company that intends to be in the “studio movie” business, $650m, which is what DreamWorks 3.0 launched with – not the $1b that was widely promoted – deep enough pockets to cover more than 2 years are needed. The billion was about right. $625m means the potential for trouble. And that is what happened at DW last spring and summer. They got out of the blocks slowly and even though they had a big, fat, cheap-to-make hit and a couple solid doubles, it’s not enough to get things straight.

And history reminds that DreamWorks 1.0 got into some of the same trouble. The Peacemaker, Amistad, Mouse Hunt, Paulie, and Small Soldiers all came before the first real hit for the company, Saving Private Ryan. But they still weren’t out of the woods… even with American Beauty and then Gladiator… too many singles or strike-outs. And at the same time, DW was trying to do television at just the time there was a show runner bubble. So hundreds of millions were lost there. When Shrek became The Franchise, it was already too late to get back to even. And eventually, even with great successes along the way, the Paramount deal saved the company from the fire.

Point is, the pockets were deep enough to get to Saving Private Ryan and Gladiator and Shrek. Things are tighter now than they were then.

5. “Over the years, small, independently financed companies — some with their own distribution mechanisms, others, like DreamWorks, without — have generated hits, only to disappear or be merged into larger corporations.”

Yes. A touch of sanity.

But again… why the generalizations? There is no comparison of Miramax becoming part of Disney, where the annual operating budget grew by 500% from the original agreement (which was for more than Miramax had been spending as an indie) and Summit merging with Lionsgate (note to NYT copy editors… it’s been one word for over 5 years already), where Summit comes with a massive cash cow but almost no other success and no ambition as continuing an independent operation or Spyglass, which merged with MGM with the explicit intent to distribute through multiple distributors.

Now, I know most of what I wrote off the top of my head and spend maybe 20 minutes floating around Box Office Mojo grabbing hard numbers. Cieply has been around longer than me. Barnes is apparently a very nice guy who knows little about this business. But the difference between smug, lazy, inaccurate coverage of the industry from The Paper of Record and a real story is about 2 hours of reporting, max. Stelter can do it, day in and day out. Why can’t the guys on the movie beat? Seriously.


The Hot Blog

Quote Unquotesee all »

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