The Hot Blog Archive for March, 2013

Weekend Estimates by The Klady of Ooze

Not a lot that’s very interesting here.

Expect Oz’s “actual” to be more like $78m.

Dead Man Down’s opening weekend per-screen is worse than the second weekend do Jack The Giant Failure. Ouch.

Lincoln over $180m (though it was there before the weekend). Identity Thief will probably pass Argo’s gross in about 2 more weeks. Silver Linings Playbook also has a shot – a small one – of passing Argo as well.


Friday Estimates by Klady The Okay & Canadian

Oz is fine. There has to be a little discomfort at The Mouse House that the film is looking like it could open a bit short of expectations. But the story of this movie, as with so many, is international, where Disney will be looking for Oz to at least double the domestic.

Would it matter if the movie didn’t suck? Ah, there’s the rub. Probably not. If the movie was a real crowd pleaser, this would be a different conversation. But “okay” versus “not good” is not much of a distinction in the marketplace these days. Even “good” vs “okay” isn’t much distinction. There are movies, like The Avengers, that just plain turn audiences on. And aside from that, the box office trajectory is pretty clearly laid out… except for the cases when the media gangs up and declares something D.O.A. That can put a stench on a movie that is every bit as powerful as word of mouth. But it only happens a few times a year… but it does happen every year.

The greatest thing than ever happened to Oz was Jack, The Giant Slayer. It got hit so hard that everyone is too tired to do anything but smile and wink about Oz.

One hates to smack Dead Man Down. Weak opening. Will make its money back internationally. Its stars are quality, but not openers.

Silver Linings Playbook should pass $120m this weekend. Someone bet me the weekend it opened to what seemed like soft business that it would never get to $30m. It will do more than 4x that figure… another fine lesson on how quick judgements in box office can be a huge mistake.

Nice number for the barely-sold Emperor. Hardly earth-shattering, but the movie seems to be drawing an audience in spite of itself.


Anatomy Of Great Corporate Publicity: Oz Meets The WSJ

Suddenly, I feel like I am on “Punk’d” or something.

The Mission: Get the Wall Street Journal to define a post-John Carter era for the studio, starting with Oz The Great & Powerful.

The Victim: Excellent former LA Times reporter Ben Fritz, just getting his seat in the WSJ Los Angeles bureau warm.

The Con: Alan Horn, a well-liked and well-respected industry senior had almost nothing to do with this movie. Although everyone in town was told when Horn took over at Disney over 9 months ago that he would be “making movies” aside from the massive franchises that are now the near-exclusive area of investment for Disney, that has not turned out to be true… at least not out of some development.

The reason this worked so well is that Horn is an adult and he is the stability that Disney sought to pose as regaining after Bob Iger’s ill-fated, ill-conceived mufti-year odyssey of chasing The New after firing The Old (aka Dick Cook). In all great lies, there is enough truth to make the audience (and reporter) swallow the bite of poisoned apple.

As you read Fritz’s piece, you can practically hear the corporate publicity team measuring the tale. “Leave out the month-plus over schedule the film went on location in Detroit.”

“Wait… don’t even mention Michigan. We got a $40m tax credit and the city is falling apart. We’re not sending any talent to the premiere. Detroit is not a part of this film’s story.”

“Let’s see if we can get the budget any lower. The production was around $200 million in the winter of 2011 (some claimed over $200m by then), before the daring, imaginative reshoots in the summer of 2012. But we’ve gotten people to claim we’re under $300m all-in with marketing. Imagine that… we’re spending less than $100m in worldwide marketing. Ha! We’ve ‘saved’ well over $50 million just by talking to the press!”

“So the Disney strategy is now to own everything it releases in whole… no financing partners. But don’t mention that Bob’s strategy under Ross was to own nothing, but to have individual businesses fund their own films while Disney would be a distribution and marketing company… except for the cartoons. That’s Rich Ross’ strategy now… but seriously, don’t even mention it. Especially never talk about Marvel’s independence having a lot to do with its line of credit when we acquired the company. It’s all in-house now.”

“Mention Saving Mr. Banks as though it was not greenlit by the previous administration with Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson locked in before Horn took the job last May… they might not check that one too closely.”

By the way – it’s me again – the idea of what movie belongs to what administration is pretty iffy. Tomorrowland was “greenlit” by Sean Bailey under Rich Ross about a year before Horn landed. It is true that Horn could have killed it. But it’s hardly his movie. We discussed Saving Mr. Banks. And it would be rather fool-hardy to call a fifth Pirates film his… though the fourth one did start with Dick Cook and then get shepherded though its production and post by Rich Ross.

Indeed, the reason Oz, The Lone Ranger and Maleficent were the only non-animated Disney movies in production when Horn took over is that the strategy that Iger pursued through Rich Ross was to not make movies in-house. And the strategy hasn’t actually changed very much, except that it now includes more direct investment by Disney. (I still expect DreamWorks to be releasing elsewhere by next year.)

In reality, the first hands-on-from-the-start Alan Horn-era project at Disney will probably be Star Wars VII. The ONLY non-animated, non-Marvel, non-DreamWorks film – aside from the six movies already discussed in details – that is on the schedule through the end of 2014 is The Muppets… Again!, another sequel that started with the last administration.


There’s nothing wrong with that. That is the company strategy. Alan Horn is a quality executive and he is executing that strategy. Perhaps some other non-franchise movies will get greenlit soon. Maybe not.

I just don’t want to be bullshitted.

The Long Ranger and Maleficent are two $200m-plus mega-movies that Disney does not want to stick Horn with, in case they go wrong. (I am hoping they do not, for the record.)

His neck – even though it’s not really his project – is out on Tomorrowland, which is due Christmas of 2014. As the last Pirates film showed, you could have Johnny Depp as Captain Jack talking to a turd and it would do a billion… and not out until Summer ’15. So that’s safe. And no one is going to make a mountain out of a Saving Mr. Banks unless it hits. All safe for him to be attached to.

Don’t get me wrong. Rich Ross was an epic mistake – Iger’s epic mistake – and the studio is much, much better off now. I have no qualms with the idea of doing that story.

But Oz’s opening has about as much to do with Alan Horn as Alice in Wonderland had to do with Rich Ross… virtually nothing. Nothing against the guy or the company, but we will feel Alan Horn’s influence on the studio about a year and change from now.

So great job by the corporate publicity team. Brava/o!

One last note. Disney’s anything/anywhere project for the next number of years is called Netflix. Starting in 2016, Disney will be Netflix’s stalking horse in streaming. And by 2020, as I have noted before, I expect Disney to buy Netflix. If not, there will be either a Disney launch or some massive number associated with Disney staying in someone else’s streaming space.


Review: Oz The Great & Powerful

From Lord of the Oz: Fellowship Of The Witches

I kept waiting for this movie to hook me. There were things that offered promise… but one after the other, they blended into the blandness of the storytelling.

Let’s just look at it. What was The Wizard of Oz about? A girl who fantasizes an exciting, surprising, dangerous world has her adventure and in the end, realizes that “there’s no place like home.” What is Oz The Great & Powerful about? A fake-it-’til-you-make-it sideshow magician who goes to a fantasy world where the big lesson will be, “Try to be less of an asshole, would ya?” The difference in emotional ambition is kinda breathtaking.

Thing is, Sam Raimi is just the smart-ass to make a dark, weird, disrespectful Oz movie. (And I tip a cap to the sexism issue… which was low on my list of issues with the film.) But it’s not that either. Why do you hire James Franco to play this character? Because he’s a little (gloriously) off, in spite of the matinee idol looks. He can’t help but add kink. But sure enough, Franco’s natural attributes are on display and completely muted by the movie (and sometimes, bubbles) around him. (I only wish that Raimi & Franco’s homage to Daffy Duck (mine. Mine! MINE!) was fully realized… that is the movie that would have been fun.)

Honestly, I saw this thing a couple of weeks ago and can barely remember it. I can recall specifics as I think about the film with intense focus, but there is not a single truly memorable element of the film for me, except, perhaps, for the beautiful living china doll and the shape of Mia Kunis’ face as The Wicked Witch. (Do you think that was a spoiler? I don’t. Not only has Disney marketed it, but I still can’t really explain why her transition is particularly significant… she scares her sister and she is mean… zzzzzz.)

Some people are loving the visual look of the film. Did nothing for me. Like the overall tone of the film, it is neither fish nor fowl. It’s an homage not only to The Wizard of Oz (to which Disney doesn’t have rights to recreate imagery), but to the era of film. It’s meant to look like backdrops and on-stage reality. But it doesn’t feel like 1939 OR like some bravely daring take on same. It just feels like a bunch of pretty. Not enough for me.

Speaking of a big bunch of pretty, I adore Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams, Mila Kunis, and James Franco. But here… meh. There was no depth to any of their characters. The film is not a battle of good vs evil. It’s a blonde who seems nicer vs two brunettes who seem less nice, maybe hiding something… but who cares?!?!?!

I hear myself thinking about this film in my head and I know that it’s counter-intuitive to complain about the lack of interesting stuff here and then call for a clearer, simpler focus… but that is what it needs. That is what defines fairy tales… and much of Shakespeare, for that matter. There is a simple, iconic, easily discussed surface story… and then a million levels of subtext created, mostly, but the audience. Great movies of an iconic nature are, in great part, a mirror into our souls.

For me, the character of Finley (a nice flying monkey) defines most of what is wrong with this movie. He is a marvel of CG technology… though he is meant, it seems, to look a little ragged. But he is a major character who talks a lot and is fully digital. But he is BORING as hell. He doesn’t have a major arc. He isn’t loveable enough to make you care even if his story is boring.

There are a half-dozen things each in John Carter and Battleship that I will look at again as they turn up on my TV in years to come. The only thing in Oz that I want to see again is when they find China Girl. It’s probably the only moment in the entire film when my instinctual interest was peaked. Didn’t last long, though I did like watching the CG of the CG (China Girl) each time she appeared on screen… actually interested in the movement choices the artists who brought her to life made.

Aside from that, you’re better off watching The Wiz. At least it is truly ambitious, even if it also represents a great filmmaker failing in all too many ways.


State of the Union: Part 1 – The Trades

I am certainly not right about everything. There are many variables, some of which I do know and some of which I do not. But I am a macro view writer. Always have been. And pretty much always will be. So take what you will and value it as you will…

THE TRADES, as of March 4, 2013

You would never know that trade magazines are a dying business from the intense battles going on around the Hollywood trades. But there is a very high profile battle going on over a very specific pool of money… the award season. Specifically, the Academy Award season.

Deadline has done a particularly good job of building an ad business for the Emmys, starting with a long relationship with Fox. But still, Oscar season accounts for no less than 60% of revenue at any of the trades—Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, Deadline—or the wannabes, like The Wrap. (Or, for that matter, MCN.) None of these sites has the amount of non-industry consumer traffic to make spending more than marginal amounts targeting consumers worth the spend. But all of them seek inflated amounts for reaching the industry primarily. And those pricey spends tend to be cheaper, on the whole, than buys at outlets that have wider audiences but bigger price tags to go with them. The two major newspapers in this business, the LA Times and the New York Times are a more complex hybrid, though LAT is especially focused on bringing in awards revenue because of an greater shrinkage of non-industry readers (and thus, ad prices).

After the Hollywood Reporter faded, they finally sold and got revived in a less trade-oriented direction by Janice Min. There are ongoing debates about whether the privately-held THR is losing money, making money, or breaking even. But the difference in profile is breathtaking. And the reduction of the print business of that trade to a once-a-week glossy, helped redefine that game.

Meanwhile, Deadline sprung to life, expanded into a trade by the cash of Jay Penske. This allowed Nikki Finke to expand her personal petting zoo—for which she worked her ass off, even as she became compromised by many players in town—and to become, essentially, a trade, particularly adept at filling up on the trade news that keeps the site inside baseball… the exception being box office, which is supported by a weekly Drudge Report link good for hundreds of thousands of page views weekly.

As Mike Fleming—a top earner at Variety for years—and Nellie Andreeva started filling blog inches in a more trade-like way, Finke has faded into the background, now a spice in the stew, but not the site driver. Still, according to insiders, the power of Finke to push Penske to play the game as she wanted it played was mighty, even if self-defeating.

Variety, pushing on a corporate level to be more of a brand & meetings business, got lost behind a paywall that went up just as it became crystal clear that no one would ever have any “exclusive” to themselves for more than an hour (even in a business in which “exclusive” is mostly about where a source wanted their content placed first, for whatever reasons).

But then a real turn in the tale. Variety went on the sales block again… this time with no real bottom on price. (And the sale netted, reportedly, about 25% of what the expected price was just a few years earlier.) More importantly, who would be the buyer?

The presumption was that Penske, who was in the hunt, was buying the veteran title for his girl, Nikki. This was a source of horror, amusement, and in some shady, creaky corners, pleasure.

But that is where our tale gets interesting. Penske landed Variety on October 9, 2012, along with financial partners, Third Point LLC. The rumor was that the deal to purchase Variety included a clause precluding Nikki from taking over for one year. I haven’t seen the contract nor have those claiming this, but who knows? Many felt that by the first of 2014, Nikki Finke would be the editor-in-chief of Variety.

But 5 months later, she is not. And Penske has used much of these 5 months trying to hire someone other than her for the job. So clearly, whatever Finke and many others presumed, was not the case. Daddy had other plans. Did he change his mind after Nikki lost hers, finding out that Variety was not to be her toy or was this always his plan? Again… no one except Jay Penske really knows the answer to this. But with the hire of Claudia Eller… a looooooong-time LA Times employee… and the promotion of two well-liked Variety editors to make a 3-headed editor-in-group, Penske signaled loudly that he was serious about giving Variety the room to compete.

So now, the bigger question… compete with whom?

There are rumors (again, rumors) that Penske has a plan to have Variety and Deadline drive down different tracks. But as noted before, there is barely enough revenue out there to sustain 2 commercially successful trades and the LA Times and the many others, much less 3.

The Hollywood Reporter hasn’t abandoned the trade business because no matter how successful becoming the movie industry hybrid of Entertainment Weekly and Ocean Drive Magazine, that awards money is still a strong play. If it’s going straight up against the glossies, it is not a clear winner. The awards budgets of studios are seductive… and come with editorial content involving major movie stars for 6 months a year.

So where can Variety go? To compete with Deadline’s inside baseball “who changed agents… who got an audition… HOT trailer” schtick or to go up against a glossy weekly with a leader who has specialized in that area and has a two-year head start cultivating the brand (and may well not even be profitable)?

Ask Team Variety and they will tell you that they already outscoops Deadline on a daily basis. And given that it carried about triple the reporters, that makes perfect sense. So does Penske try to stop those scoops and funnel them to Deadline? After hiring Claudia Eller, seems unlikely.

Does Variety try to compete with The Hollywood Reporter’s angle? Do they look for middle ground?

The big question mark in this whole picture is about the advertisers. They are not stupid, even if they have wildly overpaid for trade print in years past (and/or present). At some point, they will realize that they are paying three publications with almost exactly the same readership and mostly, the same content.

There are two possible strategies by Penske. First, he can try to reduce the costs at Variety to a slightly higher level than Deadline, trying to have the two website businesses with a minor, but financially critical print component balance. The theory here would be that there is more advertising money to be made by two small businesses than by one larger business. They would cannibalize each other, but the overall sum would be greater than either could make on its own and with two modestly successful brands, some sucker might come along and buy one of the for a significant profit.

Second, Penske could choose… and would inevitably choose Variety. Push Fleming & Andreeva to Variety and Deadline would be decimated… and much, much cheaper. Nikki would have to go back to work to avoid being seen as a failure… and you know that she would work herself to death rather than ever to allow the perception that she is flawed in any way. Nikki’s bile re: Variety would be marginalized, as would her tool of threatening people and companies for content. Variety accelerates, both in reality and perception and becomes the clear alpha trade based on what we call news in the entertainment business. Time Magazine to THR’s EW (as the brands were perceived in the past).

Third scenario would be to truly “church & state” the two entities and let them battle it out. This would be insane… but then again, Sumner Redstone split CBS and Paramount and allows them to continue to bicker, undermine, and marginalize one another. So it would not be the first such crazy choice.

Truly, there seems little that THR can actually do in response to Penske’s two outlets. THR is not in the same game. And if it focuses on countering Variety and Deadline, they will self-screw.

So is think the ball is very much in Jay Penske’s court. What will he do now that he has paid for control of the Hollywood trade business? How will he handle his unruly daughter? How much of this is ego and how much is business? Will he overplay his hand and cause the advertisers that are so critical to these business’ futures to retreat?

I am, honestly, more hopeful than I have been about the trades in many years. But it can go south in a hurry. I don’t care whether the people at Variety feel good about what he’s saying or not. They are, mostly, into tactics, not strategy. The big decisions here are strategic.

And as strong a reporter as Claudia Eller is and has been, she is a minor pivot in this story. Her hire is not going to define Variety. It’s bigger than any one reporter. Bigger than Nikki and all that crazy-ass “personality.” It’s about a declining category that will get stronger or weaker based on the strategic choices of one rich guy.



BYOB 3613


Films Opening To $25m – $35m Which Were Written Off On Opening Weekend

Hellboy II: The Golden Army Uni. $34,539,115 $75,986,503 7/11/08
The Wolfman Uni. $31,479,235 $61,979,680 2/12/10
Evan Almighty Uni. $31,192,615 $100,462,298 6/22/07
Bruno Uni. $30,619,130 $60,054,530 7/10/09
John Carter BV $30,180,188 $73,078,100 3/9/12
Dark Shadows WB $29,685,274 $79,727,149 5/11/12
Scooby-Doo 2 WB $29,438,331 $84,216,833 3/26/04
The Santa Clause 2 BV $29,008,696 $139,236,327 11/1/02
Jack the Giant Slayer WB (NL) $28,010,000 $28,010,000 3/1/13
Wild Wild West WB $27,687,484 $113,804,681 6/30/99
Beowulf Par. $27,515,871 $82,280,579 11/16/07
Bedtime Stories BV $27,450,296 $110,101,975 12/25/08
Jumper Fox $27,354,808 $80,172,128 2/14/08
Hollow Man Sony $26,414,386 $73,209,340 8/4/00
The Golden Compass NL $25,783,232 $70,107,728 12/7/07
Miami Vice Uni. $25,723,815 $63,450,470 7/28/06
The A-Team Fox $25,669,455 $77,222,099 6/11/10
V for Vendetta WB $25,642,340 $70,511,035 3/17/06
Total Recall (2012) Sony $25,577,758 $58,877,969 8/3/12
Battleship Uni. $25,534,825 $65,422,625 5/18/12
Public Enemies Uni. $25,271,675 $97,104,620 7/1/09
Meet the Robinsons BV $25,123,781 $97,822,171 3/30/07
Jack and Jill Sony $25,003,575 $74,158,157 11/11/11


4 of these, obviously, got to $100m domestic. Only 2 of those were profitable, however.


Weekend Estimates by Klady the Number Slayer

Is there really anything of any significance to say about this weekend?

Just about everyone smelled Jack as a big, hairy bomb from miles away. The Last Anything 2 is a joke title. And 21 & Over is dead smack in the middle of all Relativity openings.

It’s nice that 1/3 of the Top 24 is made up of 8 Oscar Best Picture nominees.

8 new films on 1 or 2 screens this weekend.

Stoker doing $23k on 7 screens is NOT good. Searchlight doesn’t seem to have believed this was a commercial movie and continue to prove it. If they had gone out and sold it as a straight thriller, I think it could have opened to at least what $10m… but is that good enough to make it worth the risk of the marketing spend? Welcome to the great indie distribution question of 2012-2015.

Sony Classics had a decent/nice weekend with No and The Gatekeepers.

P.S. Odds are quite good that Jack’s $28m studio estimate will end up being more like $26.5m.


Friday Estimates by Klady The Buzz Killer

It has not been in a good first quarter in MovieVile this year… well, 2 months, really. And not helping at all is Jack, The Giant Slayer, aka The Movie That Got Bryan Singer Back To X-Men.

Jack is, really, just another victim of The Twilight Saga… the move towards fairy tale thinking with a twist, meant to thrill and inspire ticket purchases the young and/or romantic at heart who also want a bit of a thrill. The last cycle, before Twilight, of chasing this female-heavy audience were the series of Asian horror film remakes, which finally died off. This “genre” is close to dead on arrival, with Warner Bros taking a double load of buckshot already this year, with Beautiful Creatures and now, Jack. Paradoxically, Nicholas Holt, who was at at the center of Summit’s #3 hit all-time that was not a Twilight film, Warm Bodies, enjoyed that success just a month ago. But WB (acronym pain) cost about 1/7 what Jack has and opened too $500k more on opening Friday alone.

Think of it like shopping for clothes with your teen daughter. You may think you know what she’ll want, but as a parent, you’ll really only get it right 5% of the time… some of the time, you’ll just be “wrong” so she can tell you you’re wrong. That is what studios look like, flailing around these days, looking for the next Twilight or Potter.

21 and Over, Relativity’s attempt to recreate Project X, opened to a little worse than half of the original.

The Last Exorcism II, a title that is comically stupid, is about 60% off the first Last… and this one moved from Lionsgate to CBS Films. This is not brain surgery. There is a reason why it was available and not at Lionsgate this time.

Interestingly, the fourth new release, Phantom, is produced by a father & son team that has made a business of picking up mini-franchises that no longer interest the originating studio enough to produce themselves. Rui Costa Reis (RCR) did Ice Castles in 2010, Wild Things 4, Stomp The Yard 2, Lake Placid 3, 30 Days of Night 2, Quarantine 2, S.W.A.T. 3, and Hostel 3. The Reis’ are branching out now, but once you’ve been in the knock-off business, it’s hard to move out of it.

I am a big fan of Stoker. I don’t think it’s world beating, as many don’t, but as thrillers with broken teen girls go, it kicks ass. It’s cinema. And sometimes, that is enough for me.

Perhaps the only real news in the chart today is the length of the list of small new releases. When everyone is doing a theatrical, no one is doing a theatrical.


BYOB Weekend


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