Hollywood Business

Hollywood

All this week, Film School Rejects presents a daily dose of our favorite articles from the archive. Originally published in September 2011, Ashe Cantrell pulls back the curtain on the Hollywood conspiracy machine… You may already be a film industry cynic. Maybe you think Hollywood is a barren wasteland, devoid of creativity and originality. Maybe you’re sick of seeing talented people get ignored and vapid hacks get splashed all over the trades. Maybe you’re tired of 3D everything and having to re-buy your movies every five to ten years. I’m not here to dissuade you of any of that. Hell no, I’m here to make it worse. Get ready, because this is some of the rottenest shit of which the film industry is capable. These are the things so terrible that Hollywood has to cover them up, lest God see their sin and smite them accordingly (and keep various government entities and lawyers off their backs, of course). If you still had any kind thoughts toward Hollywood, I suggest you prepare yourself for crushing disappointment. But first, I’d like to give a very huge shout out and thank you to writers C. Coville and Maxwell Yezpitelok for their help on this article. You guys are great! And now back to the shit storm, already in progress:

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The Avengers

According to USA Today, 2012 is the biggest box office year in movie history (not adjusted for inflation). The numbers aren’t set yet (because, you know, the year’s not over), but if the predictive models hold, the industry will close out with $10.8b and the first year since 2009 that individual ticket sales went up. Unsurprisingly, it was buoyed by big franchise hits — including over a billion coming in solely from The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises. Another billion was earned from a franchise that was ending (Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 2), two franchises that were just beginning (The Hunger Games and a rebooted Spider-Man) and a franchise that’s stronger than ever at a half-century old (Bond, James Bond). In the simplest terms, it only took 6 movies to cross the $2b mark this year whereas it took 8 movies to do the same in 2011. That may seem small, but when you’re dealing in the hundreds of millions, it can be the difference between a slump and a reason to buy a sheet cake at Costco for the company break room. Especially when the top movie this year outdid the top movie of the previous by $242m. The whole mess is too complicated to reduce to a single factor. Marvel’s big gamble paid off in a profound way, but there’s also the rebounding economy at large to think about and the general fickleness of consumers. Plus, this raw number doesn’t take into consideration that 50 more movies were released in 2012, […]

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Michael J. Lerner Barton Fink

If you thought it was hard to get a major Hollywood studio to give you a bunch of money to make a movie, you’ve been wrong all this time. In fact, not only is it pretty easy, there are only 29 steps to making it happen. According to Maria Full of Grace director Joshua Marston, who’s written a simple-to-use flow chart for NPR’s Planet Money, fame and glory can be yours just by following the arrows. Of course if there’s one thing this instruction manual illustrates, it’s how crappy things are in the system for screenwriters – something  we seem to be talking about more and more these days. Not to mention anyone with original ideas. But enough of the depressing stuff! Show us the money! How do we get the go-ahead on a blockbuster idea? How do we convince the top brass that we deserve their millions? How do we become the next Brett Ratner?? Step one: check out Marston’s chart below.

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Arbitrage 2012 Film

Resident Evil: Retribution won the box office this weekend with $21.1m domestic (an average amount for the franchise), but it was The Master which impressed most with a stunning $146,000 per theater average (scoring a total of $730,000 before expanding next week) and Arbitrage which scored over $2m in just under 200 theaters. The 5-theater feat from Paul Thomas Anderson‘s latest makes it the second-highest opening per theater average in history for a limited release live-action film (behind Red State). If that seems like a lot of qualifiers, it’s because it is. However, it’s important to keep in context that top record-makers for per theater averages are 6 Disney-released films (The Lion King, Pocahontas, The Princess and the Frog, Toy Story 2, A Bug’s Life, Hercules) followed by Red State, followed by another Disney-released film (Atlantis: The Lost Empire), followed by The Master in the #9 spot. So it’s not like this is a wide-open field or anything. This is an achievement almost solely regulated to animated features, but it’s unsurprising considering the massive buzz that The Master has achieved ahead of a very small release. [Box Office Mojo]  

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Empty Movie Theater

To Whom It May Concern: 532,000,000. If you’re drinking the last drops of stale champagne from last night after celebrating the second highest-grossing summer on record, that number should sober you up a bit. It’s the number of actual tickets sold from the first week in May to Labor Day, and it’s down 4% from last year – making it (if the number holds) the smallest amount of moviegoers coaxed into theaters since 1993. This isn’t a doomsday scenario or anything. It’s not an air raid siren; just a wake up call. Overall revenue dropped for the first time in 7 years, but even as you’re still making large amounts of money, take note that your audience is looking for something else. You might say that the Olympics were the villain, but they were offset by higher ticket prices that managed to hide a deep, bleeding cut. Sometime soon, there will be a saturation point for how high you can drive up individual ticket costs while audience numbers creep down and the blood shows. That’s pretty basic economics, but who knows. Maybe a growing economy will mean you never have to see larger numbers of customers chased away by absurdly high entry fees; perhaps they’ll stabilize alongside a population willing and able to spend a little bit more to see magic in a big, dark room. Regardless, you’ve got to change your products, and you’ve got to change the way you’re presenting them to us. You’ve got to know that there’s a […]

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Obamas America

The Expendables 2 and The Bourne Legacy continued to make money this weekend. In fact, the top 7 box office earners from last week all kept their spots this time around except for Sparkle which dropped to 11th place and allowed The Dark Knight Rises and Timothy Green to improve their positions. Premium Rush opened to 7th place with $6.3m on 2,255 screens – resulting in a per screen average that was on par with movies that have been out for two to three weeks and lower than some new offerings. It wasn’t an auspicious opening, but even as the top winners ossify in the August doldrums, the real winners are indie films, and at the top of the heap is 2016: Obama’s America. Based on the book “The Roots of Obama’s Rage” by Dinesh D’Souza and co-directed by D’Souza and John Sullivan, the documentary takes a look at what the country and world might be like if the President were to earn a second term. After a limited run in July, the documentary had a successful weekend with $6.2m (which you’ll note almost beat out Premium Rush), vaulting to the number 6 spot on the list of highest-grossing political docs. Even more dramatic, it’s now the highest-grossing right-leaning political doc, beating out Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed (which was produced by Sullivan) for the honor. It seems possible that Obama’s America might be able to increase its position on the overall list by earning $5.3m more to overtake Capitalism: A Love Story. Depending on how the expansion is handled, and how audiences […]

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Adaptation Nic Cage

Citing late payments and a general feeling that giving away some rewrite work for free is necessary to compete, the latest WGA survey shows that writers are more than a bit unhappy. The survey, which is done anonymously for protective reasons, caused the WGA to say that “screenwriters believe their status in the industry has significantly deteriorated over the past several years,” in a recent letter to union members following the results. According to Variety, feature film earnings in 2011 dropped 12.6% to a total $349.1m and employment figures dropped by 8.1% to a total of 1,562 writers employed. Whether or not this lays the groundwork for a new strike is unclear. The 2008 strike focused greatly on payment shares for the burgeoning digital market, but widespread difficulty in securing meaningful work is undoubtedly a more strident reason to renegotiate terms or, if need be, to threaten to stop work. Yes, a strike would affect the entire industry all the way down the line. Even if these conditions are a result of the natural belt-tightening done by the major studios – notably focusing on tentpoles instead of middle-budget features – they all must remember that, without a script, there is no movie. View the entire survey via LA Times (opens as a PDF).

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The Amazing Spider-Man

Although The Amazing Spider-Man opened the lowest out of all the other movies in the Sony franchise with a $65m weekend, it’s already scored $341m worldwide. Not bad for a week’s work. Sam Raimi‘s series opened with $114.8m, $88.1m, and $151m (chronologically), and even though Marc Webb’s rebooted version starring Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone didn’t hit that mark, it benefited from an extended holiday week and made more than enough to earn sequels. This film was in a funny situation though. As pointed out last week, it had the ability to change the direction of major studios – a fitting task for the reboot of a franchise that shifted the rudder of the last decade. For some fans, it proved to be a story success, but the response has been far from unanimously positive. However, this initial haul (and the money still to come) proves that Sony (and all other studios) can keep mining their name-brand superhero content as long as they want, rebooting whenever they see fit. Spider-man and Batman are the new Bond.

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Brave

Brave has already made a milestone for Pixar as it marks the 13th straight release to debut at #1. No surprise for a brand that’s loved around the world and continually crafts memorable movies that resonate with children and old children alike. But where does it rank against other Pixar openings? According to numbers from Box Office Mojo, The Movie Formerly Known as The Bear and the Bow made $66.7m domestically in its first weekend, making it the fifth highest in the production company’s history. Here’s the full ranking:

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Avengers Concept Art

Three is the magic number for The Avengers this week. Not only is it third on the weekend Box Office (behind Snow White and the Huntsman and Men in Black 3), it’s also the third highest grossing movie in the world, and the third highest grossing on the all-time domestic charts. With a continued strong showing, it surpassed The Dark Knight ($533m) to take the spot with $552m. It’s worldwide gross is over $1.3b. In order to take the #2 domestic spot, the Joss Whedon flick would have to take down another $106m to best Titanic – a task that seems equally possible and unlikely. So, it turns out people like this thing. However, Batman will have a chance to answer later this summer with The Dark Knight Rises. Will it be even bigger? [Box Office Mojo]

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Piranha 3DD

Piranha 3DD is the first 3D movie to have a day-and-date release – that is, a release to VOD and Facebook on the same day it hits theaters. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the bloody-watered buoyant-breasted horror comedy will be available VOD for 7 bucks (in standard and high def) and 8 bucks for 3D on the major platforms. It will also be featured on Facebook. The Weinstein Company‘s Dimension Films and Starz Digital Media are handling the distribution online, and Starz VP Mara Winokur is enthusiastic about the safety net involved, citing that it will be a success even if no one watches on Facebook. “The cost was low enough that if there are no views, but people saw the promotion and went to theaters or got it on DVD or elsewhere, it will be successful. It is a great marketing spend in itself. It is a holistic experiment,” she said.

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Her name is Wanda. Specifically, the Dalian Wanda Group, which just bought out AMC Entertainment Holdings for $2.6b. I’m guessing the card that gets me free movies for a year just expired. Not only is this the biggest Chinese-led buyout of an American-owned company in history, the deal also makes Wanda the biggest movie theater chain on the planet. That also means there’s no way to hyperbolize this. Wanda, which operates 730 screens (as well as corporate plazas, five-star hotels, department stores and karaoke centers) will take over AMC’s 346, officially making it the biggest. According to MSN Money, AMC was the #2 theater chain in the US behind Regal with $2.5b in sales, although the company has struggled to lose a large amount of debt it’s been carrying. Meanwhile, according to their website, Wanda has assets totaling $31b with an annual income of $17b. As movie fans, none of the numbers matter. What matters is the future of the theater chain. As of now, Wanda hasn’t announced any structural changes, but it’ll be interesting to see if they eventually decide to alter the audience experience in any meaningful way. In the meantime, let’s all laugh at the hilarious xenophobia of the MSN comments section.  

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Can you hear it? Out there in the distance, on a cold crag of rock with the wind whipping at its monstrous back is a marketing department VP howling at the empty night. Battleship – in all of its $209m budget plus probably $200m more in marketing – was hoping for the kind of win at the box office that would signal the go-ahead for two more movies and the trappings that come with franchises. It did not succeed. As proof that sticking feathers up your butt and calling yourself a chicken doesn’t work, the Peter Berg-directed pile of messy noises made a paltry $25m this weekend, coming in at #2. A fitting, metaphorical place. It’s not surprising that The Avengers ended up back in the top spot, this time earning another $55m – bringing its domestic take closer to the half-billion mark and making its grand total right at $1.8b (with a b).

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What is Cannes in 60 Seconds? If you say it with a pompous accent, it’s a hilarious pun on a classic Nic Cage/Angelina Jolie film that no one can rightfully claim is at all terrible. If you say it with a normal accent, it’s still a news and review round-up from the South of France. The biggest news comes from the mouths of critics after seeing the opening night flick – Wes Anderson‘s Moonrise Kingdom. It’s garnered high, near-universal praise. A smattering of reviews can be found here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. But that’s not all that’s going on:

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“In some cases however, the passage of time is a blessing…Time heals all wounds, makes us forget, or, allows us a chance to reflect. Three years is an abundance of time. A lot can happen in 36 months: wars have been fought and lost, relationships have blossomed and then been destroyed, children have been conceived, born, and taken their first steps. In the case of Mother’s Day, 3 years was the amount of time it took me to become disillusioned with the filmmaking process.” That’s director Darren Bousman revving the horror engine on a nightmare. It doesn’t involve a reverse bear trap or a team sent back for your organs, so it’s probably scarier. It’s the story of how a movie that Bousman made that simultaneously met his creative vision and received high praise from testing audiences went from a huge potential opening to a release last weekend that no one heard about. Bousman goes into deep detail, chronicling the journey of a movie that wrapped in 2009 and didn’t see the light of day until 2012. It’s a must-read piece for how candid Bousman is regarding a hell on the other side of development. Let’s call it Post-Production Hell. His segment on what watching a test audience react to his work is especially enlightening. Ultimately, the train of events looks something like this:

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Boiling Point

The Avengers is kind of a major success. What, you hadn’t heard? Of course you did. Avengers box office is on the tips of tongues, internet screens, newspapers, and even within the pages of Time Magazine. You don’t make a billion dollars that quickly without garnering a lot of attention. With attention comes discussion. People always want to be included in the discussion, it helps get a little bit of that attention directed their way. If at this point you feel the need to point out the hypocrisy of this entire thing, go for it. What do I care? In attempting to be part of the discussion and gather up some of that sweet, sweet spotlight, everyone has been discussing the Avengers box office results and asking the question we all ask of super hero teams and double rainbows: What does it mean?

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The Reject Report - Large

No one was expecting this. The chances The Avengers had of breaking the opening weekend box office were slim. They were there, but few thought it was anywhere near reality. There’s a lot of egg on a lot of faces today. Not only did The Avengers beat Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2‘s opening weekend take of $169.1m, it left every film that has ever been released in its dust. The first film to ever break $200m in its opening three days of US release – That’s to say nothing of the $441.5m it’s already made overseas – this is a milestone in Hollywood’s history that everyone thought would come one day. Not many thought it would happen in 2012.

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The Reject Report - Large

Cue the Don Henley, because the boys of Summer have arrived. The girls are here, too. We don’t want to sound like Moviefone over here. Boys, girls, aliens, piranha. They’re all being represented this Summer, and the first of many earth-shattering weekends is upon us. As with opening weekends of Summer’s past, the team over at Marvel have it all to themselves, this time with the culmination of years of tiring work. Will all the work be for naught? Hell naw. The Avengers is going to completely rule this weekend. The only question is what, if any, records will it be breaking. You take a look. We’re going back to Henley for the time being.

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The Reject Report - Large

Movie fans can feel it. The Summer movie season is in the air, and we’ll be analyzing what it’s opening attack has to offer. For now, though, we’ve got four new films squaring off to soak up as much pre-Summer sun as they can, some of them sure to be more successful at that than others. Here’s a hint: the movie set in foggy Baltimore in the 1800s won’t be getting much sun. Another action film for the adult crowd and an animated yarn have better chances, but it’ll end up being the romantic comedy hitting that top spot here just before we’re flooded with superhero blockbusters. It’s the final Reject Report before Summer hits, and the flood of new movies this weekend is just one more indication that the industry has no urge to slow down now.

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The Reject Report - Large

A chimpanzee, Zac Efron, Steve Harvey, and Katniss – Not Jennifer Lawrence – all have their palms on a brand new Dodge Challenger. Hemi. The last person with their hand on the car wins it, and, unfortunately for Katniss – Still not Jennifer Lawrence – who could afford 10 Dodge Challengers right now – the game’s been going for four days straight. She’s exhausted. The other players are all fresh, and a few of them have heavy fan support. Who will walk away with this magnificent car or the claim of #1 at the box office if you’re into the whole analogy thing? One things for certain. The chimpanzee was already distracted by a low-hanging branch. Let the contest begin.

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published: 12.19.2014
A-
published: 12.18.2014
C-
published: 12.17.2014
B+


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