Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Digital Hollywood NYC: Theatrical holds steady in a turbulent media world

By Kevin Lally

FJI correspondent Doris Toumarkine reports on the buzz about new media at the annual Digital Hollywood New York City conference.

The annual Digital Hollywood New York City conferences over the past few years have emitted less the Digital Hollywoodvibe of a cross-industry gathering than that of a soul-searching, 12-step meeting convening similarly rattled souls seeking group support, encouragement and advice.

But the 2011 edition, held Nov. 17-18 again at midtown Manhattan's McGraw-Hill Building, emitted more welcoming signs of optimism and excitement vis--vis the changes that the digital revolution has and is unleashing on all the entertainment/media/communications sectors.

Attracting those in advertising, marketing, cable, film, media, mobiles, tablets, supporting technologies, finance and related businesses, the event this year also underscored the fact that digital capabilities are increasingly responsible for converging businesses and sending them into new ones while providing more bounty to consumers. Less sanguine is what this historic and ongoing changeover is doing to the other side.

Amidst the turmoil in the media and entertainment sectors, panelists in film again declared that the theatrical window remains strong because consumers, no contest, still want the big screen. Indie filmmakers, however, continue to confront the challenges of getting their films seen and sold. A panel discussing "Film Festivals in the Digital Age: Tribeca, New York, Hamptons, Toronto, IFP, Vimeo" made clear that fests are no longer what they used to be. As IndieWire writer Eric Kohn, Independent Filmmaker Project's Amy Dotson and Tribeca Film Fest chief creative officer and former Sundance director Geoff Gilmore noted, festivals that used to focus on the business of setting deals or beginning the discussions are now more about building audiences and getting films noticed by functioning as showcasing platforms.

What used to be an all-important "premiering" of a film at a fest is almost a non-issue. Also fading is the dream of someone like a Harvey Weinstein discovering a movie at a fest and grabbing it. Said Gilmore, "The issue today is really about raising the visibility of a film." Indicative of this trend is how many festivals now offer their selections day-and-date online via video-on-demand.

This virtual trend is fully realized by panelist Sebastien Perioche's Eurocinema On Demand, whose virtual fest anyone can see online 24/7. The fest finds its selections by partnering with usually government-run cultural groups across Europe. He emphasized that "it's all about mobility and accessibility�people want to see their festivals anywhere, any way they can."

"Curating" has also become integral, whatever the festival. Panelist Terence Gray's New York Television Festival has evolved into a carefully curated, must-see, rich showcase for pilots. Said Gray, "We're in the business to put the very best in front of the networks and agents and that's how we've built our brand and gotten them to pay attention." His fest also offers mentoring programs addressing subjects like what networks are actually looking for.

Regarding any profits going to filmmakers from nontheatrical, TV or video situations, panelists cited a number of hands in the till before the creators see revenues. Grabbing cuts are cable providers, middlemen/aggregators who curate, and specific channels. At least fests can offer a more streamlined, less hijacked road to viewer eyeballs and filmmaker benefits. Maybe.

As for avoiding crippling marketing costs, finding deep-pocketed sponsors is the way to go, as the Tribeca Fest has done with founding sponsor American Express. Sugar daddies come in plastic.

Gilmore, citing the Venice Fest's decision to show just an episode of HBO's Mildred Pierce, characterized this and other "transmedia" crossovers to new avenues as "murky," even wondering whether presenting nonlinear programming like gaming narratives has a place in the festival realm.

Festivals and markets also suggest that the world of independent filmmaking has gotten more inclusive. The IFP, the longtime marketplace for independent films, used to be, as Dotson put it, "very New York-centric. But now the films are coming from everywhere, not just from New York and L.A. So we're getting all kinds of fresh content."

Panelists noted that because DVD has been down for about a decade, other platforms like VOD have become all the more coveted. Filmmakers were reprimanded for not strategizing early in production who their audiences are and how to reach them. Concrete goals, panelists agreed, must be set early in the filmmaking process.

The question of the quality of film content also emerged. Will content from the top (curated, elitist) prevail over the kind of content from the bottom that Google's YouTube favors? Viewers seem divided.

Like just about everything else in flux, film fests were declared "in a transitional moment." And panelists concurred with IndieWire's Kohn that "everyone wants to see their work on the big screen."

"The Future of Content Distribution: Pay, VOD, Broadband, Cable and Mobile" addressed the new feature film avenues opened by digital. There seems to be life beyond theatres, but where are the revenues?

Like the other panelists, SnagFilms CEO Rick Allen's goal is to get his films on all platforms, "get independent films in front of everyone, whether [the movies are] ad-supported or transactional."

Screen Media Ventures senior VP of digital distribution Gary Delfiner, too, is building his now 320-film library and looking at additional platforms in a reach to ten countries so far. Also in this game is Cinetic Rights Management head of content Matt Dentler (former honcho at South by Southwest), whose is releasing content across the globe.

With viewers in the driver seat, the content is available, but where is the money? There are bright spots. As an example of generated revenues that flowed back to content creators, Dentler pointed to a small film made in France by the Polish Brothers and strategically released straight to VOD that "netted a healthy six figures."

Panelists also discussed how filmmakers are splitting rights rather than giving away the farm, and how to find supportive people amidst this twisty rights conundrum. Snag and Cinetic might be a good start if content creators propose attractive material. This whole area of indie films going out non-theatrically and digitally is, as Allen said, "too new a medium to predict outcomes, so we try to innovate as best we can."

And innovate they are. SnagFilms, for instance, will release Splinters, its first theatrical release, in early 2011. Asked if there might be a conflict of interest, considering the company runs the popular IndieWire indie-focused news site, Allen assured that Snag is "so aware of this issue and have always been careful to keep up that China Wall." Additionally, he said, the strict and watchful IndieWire staff taskmasters will assure objectivity and no favoritism.

Filmmakers were encouraged to look into branded entertainment as a way of getting financial help. And short films can have a way of finding life. Allen discussed a case in which shorts funded by Goldman Sachs were re-cut into a longer-form program made available on the SnagFilms platform.

Suggesting the murkiness that the new distribution spaces present, Dentler noted that even celebrity status is different in the digital space. Web-generated stars aren't necessarily those bold-faced names that traditional media trumpets.

There was agreement that theatrical for smaller titles is not much more than "a strategy to build buzz for digital." Delfiner summed up the wobbly state of things for filmmakers and providers alike: "The Holy Grail remains�how do you get people to watch your movie?"

Film aside, the conference was most prominently loaded with discussions about the multi-screen universe of devices (TVs, tablets, broadband, smart-phones and IPTVs, etc.), constant changes in technology and user adoption, content and favored platforms, the impact of social media on advertising, marketing and growing awareness, current hegemonies like Facebook, Apple products like the iPad and services like iTunes, and so much more. Again, topics were propelled by the fury of never-ending technological innovation that impacts the media/entertainment/communication environments ("eco-systems," being the favored word).

The one constant amidst so much uncertainty seems to be the attraction of motion picture theatres that are still filling seats by filling screens with good stories. Hooray for Hollywood and gifted independents who thrive on the big screens! Their display of stability in an otherwise unstable, rocked and flummoxed world is encouraging.

As more vulnerable players experiment with radically different businesses (e.g., Apple, Google and Facebook moving into consumer electronics), filmmakers, the studios and theatres just have to continue doing the same thing better.

Still, those in this safer film haven may be missing out on uncertainty's byproduct�the excitement generated by new ideas and often rewarding risk-taking required of the more vulnerable players on the digital playing field. At least the studios have Ultraviolet in the works to provide their off-screen thrills and chills.

But let exhibitors beware: Panelists shared their own excitement about the high quality of images that the small screen can now deliver. Smaller is getting better.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The tale of the competing 'Snow Whites'

By Sarah Sluis

The success of Alice in Wonderland prompted Hollywood to furiously pursue other fairy tales. That means 2012 will bring two Snow White films. Relativity Media's Mirror Mirror will open first, on March 16. Summit's Snow White and the Huntsman will release in the summer, tentatively on June 1. I've previously scoffed at the idea of two Snow White films. After seeing the second film's trailer, which came out today, I've revised my thinking. Each take on the classic fairy tale is so different I actually think audiences won't mind.

Snow White and the Huntsman, which stars Charlize Theron as the evil queen and Kristen Stewart as Snow White, takes itself very, very, seriously. The trailer is reminiscent of all those male-dominated action movies about Greek gods--like Clash of the Titans and Immortals. Creepy special effects, like a black cape dissolving into thousands of crows, or the evil queen sucking the life out of a poor woman, may make the magic-infused action worthwhile.

Mirror Mirror, however, is the unlikely winner. The trailer is surprisingly cheesy--word is the movie is going for a PG rating. But there's also a feeling that the movie's poking fun of conventions, in the style of Shrek or The Princess Bride. As the evil queen, Julia Roberts is self-involved but not too scary--her evil notch is only slightly higher than when she tried to steal the man in My Best Friend's Wedding. Armie Hammer (The Social Network, J. Edgar) proves himself a rising star as the prince who's in a love triangle with the queen and Snow White. There are actually dwarves in this version (at least in the trailer). It looks so bad it's good, something the Internet has already picked up on. Indiewire called it a "future camp classic."

Mirror, Mirror looks like it may have some groany laughs, but at least it doesn't take itself too seriously. Snow White and the Huntsman has more work ahead of it. All action and special effects and cavalries riding in to battle? Not my cup of tea. With each movie taking an entirely different route, however, it will be interesting to see if the light or dark vision of Snow White wins over more audiences.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The full rundown on the 'Hunger Games' trailer

By Sarah Sluis

Last month I was on an airplane, when I recognized the Hunger Games font in my seatmate's book. "She's reading The Hunger Games!" I thought. Conversation ensued. We were both in our mid-twenties. She was reading the second book on the recommendation of her sister. These are what Hunger Games fans look like. We're not as swoony and crazy as the Twi-hards, but we also don't include the younger fans of the Harry Potter series. Quite a lot of the readers have long aged out of the young adult category but still find themselves turning to the series, which has an immensely satisfying dystopian vision. Twelve districts, used only for their natural resources or manufacturing capabilities, must sacrifice a male and female teen to play in the Games as a Tribute. Armed with weapons and survivalist gear (if they're lucky), they fight to the death in the Arena, a natural environment that's been tweaked by the Gamemakers to make it more dangerous.

The trailer for the movie, which opens on March 23, 2012, released yesterday, unleashing a furor of comments and posts from the blogosphere. I list the trailer's biggest disappointments and successes.

1. District 12. The poor coal town looked exactly as I had envisioned it. The (un-)electric fence looked old and rusty, the citizens downbeat and drained of hope. The platform Effie (played by Elizabeth Banks in makeup that appears to channel Johnny Depp in Alice in Wonderland) uses to announce the Tributes is bigger and grander than I imagined, with lots of extra screens to amplify the action.

2. The city shot of the Capitol looked bland and boring, like a modern Star Wars ripoff. No budget was spent on this. The interiors were much more promising. Hollywood knows how to create futuristic, modern interiors without a problem. It's the special effects that are lacking here.

3. The makeover. For me, the biggest Jennifer Lawrence transformation was seeing her first as a poor Ozarks girl in Winter's Bone, then as a glamorous blonde at the Oscars. The Hunger Games can't replicate that kind of transformation. She does look prettier and more done up after receiving her makeover at the Capitol, but don't expect The Princess Diaries.

4. The Games. This is really the most important part of the story, and so far there's nothing to disappoint. The trailer stops after all the Tributes enter the arena, and Katniss (Lawrence) grabs the same, single bag that she does in the book. The initial bloodshed occurs just moments later.

Some of the book's biggest assets can't be intuited from a trailer. Suzanne Collins' novel reads like a screenplay at times. There aren't a lot of superfluous details to edit out, and the action is brisk, satisfying, and extremely page-turning. If the actors and director can transfer that energy to the screen, The Hunger Games will have no trouble being a huge success.

Monday, November 14, 2011

'Immortals' rule the box office

By Sarah Sluis

The 3D swords-and-sandals epic Immortals outperformed industry expectations and finished with $32 million. Young filmgoers, who haven't been turning out in force lately, returned for the picture, which Immortals 1may have been perceived as offering more value with all its special effects. 3D, too, did well, accounting for 66% of the total. Distributor Relativity Media pulled off its biggest debut ever, but the expensive film will still have to do well in secondary markets in order to pull in a profit.

Eking out a second place finish, Jack and Jill debuted surprisingly high, to the tune of $26 million. Audiences who grew up with Sandler Jack and jill sandlerdidn't abandon him. 52% of audiences were over 25. The PG-rated comedy also got 52% of its business from families, indicating that the all-ages rating was a savvy move.

Puss in Boots finished neck-and-neck with Jack and Jill, earning an estimated $25.5 million. In its third week, it dipped just 23%. Despite debuting to just $34 million, the CG-animated movie earned three times that much in three weeks. This is an unusual multiple to achieve, but one that DreamWorks Animation consistently pulls off for its titles. With over $100 million in the bank, Puss in Boots doesn't have a lot to worry about when Happy Feet 2 joins the animated fray this Friday.

Leonardo DiCaprio-starring J. Edgar had a respectable finish of $11.4 million. Releasing in less than 2,000 locations, the biopic's per-screen average of $6,000 strikes an optimistic note. However, this J edgar 2
specialty/awards title has an uphill battle ahead of it. Only 40% of critics rated the movie positive, compared to the 91% positive rating of this Friday's opener, The Descendants. Director Clint Eastwood appears to have hit another double or triple, not the home run it needs for a big Oscar presence.

Melancholia, the end-of-the-world meditation from director Lars von Trier, opened with a $14,000 per-screen average in nineteen locations. Given the large number of theatres showing the drama, the Kirsten Dunst starrer performed well. Werner Herzog's Into the Abyss came up with $4,200 per location in twelve theatres. The documentary, which focuses on the death penalty, may not be as enticing a subject as his 3D spelunking doc Cave of Forgotten Dreams. Paramount Vantage's Like Crazy picked up the pace in its third week, netting half a million and going up 97% from the previous week. Now playing in 70 theatres, the romance wrangled an impressive $7,500 per location.

This Wednesday, The Descendants will get a head start on the weekend. Starting Thursday at midnight The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn (Part One) will ravage audiences, and families will have another animated option, Happy Feet Two.

Friday, November 11, 2011

'Immortals' spars with 'Jack and Jill'

By Sarah Sluis

The swords-and-sandals epic Immortals (3,112 theatres) will have to fight a little in order to top the box office. Jack and Jill, Puss in Boots, and Immortals are all expected to land somewhere north of $20 million, but Immortals' 3D action should make it the biggest crowd-pleaser. 40% of Rotten Tomatoes Immortals henry cavillcritics rated the movie positively, and our Maitland McDonagh was one of them. She praised the "old-school epic entertainment dressed up with state-of-the-art effects." The driving force in the plot is the search for a bow that will allow a person to become a "one-man army." The bow sounds an awful lot like the "Macguffin" or "weenie" trope, but hey, at least it's an excuse for "deliriously bloody battle sequences and fetishistic fascination with lightly clad male flesh."

Adam Sandler cross-dresses in Jack and Jill (3,438 theatres), which may be the comedian's most groan-inducing premise yet. "Brains can be checked at the coatroom," critic Doris Toumarkine snipes, but acknowledges that some "Sandler fans may welcome the brainless diversion." After last year's Grown Ups, count me out--I'm a fallen Sandler Jack and jill sandler cakefan. With an insanely low 2% positive Rotten Tomatoes rating, I doubt even those who count Happy Gilmore and Billy Madison as their favorite comedies will turn out. Ouch. Unlike most of the star's films, Jack and Jill is rated PG, so perhaps it will draw in family crowds and eleven-year-old boys who think Sandler is the funniest guy ever.

Director Clint Eastwood's J. Edgar (expanding to 1,910 theatres) opened in limited release on Wednesday, posting a $7,500 per-screen average. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as famed FBI head J. Edgar Hoover in the biopic. This is the kind of film that thrives on good reviews, but not many are coming. Sure, DiCaprio delivers a "committed performance," according to critic Kevin Lally, but there's also the "old-age makeup [that] isn't always convincing" and a speechy setup. "As agent Clyde Tolson, Armie Hammer says more with a knowing smile than any line of [screenwriter Dustin Lance] J edgar oldBlack's wordy dialogue," Lally concludes. Sounds like a classic case of not following "show don't tell." Since the filmmakers can only speculate on certain things--like the exact nature of Hoover's relationship with Tolson, to whom he left his entire estate and spent a lot of close time with--it's often unsatisfying. The scope, too, is so large Black often just brushes the surface. Count this one out of the major Oscar races. At least, I hope there are better films out there this season.

On the specialty front, there's a tiny release of Elite Squad: The Enemy Within (1 theatre), a sequel to the smash Brazilian cops and gangsters hit that's "as intelligent as it is entertaining," according to critic Doris Toumarkine. Also in the mix is director Lars von Trier's Melancholia. Kirsten Dunst stars as a bride who marries just as a planet inches closer to destroying Earth. Critic Chris Barsanti felt the movie amounts to a "trite apocalypse," though he's in the minority of reviewers. Finally, director Werner Herzog mulls over the death penalty by focusing on one heinous crime in Texas in Into the Abyss (10 theatres). Barsanti had kinder words for the documentary, praising it as "essayistic yet visceral"

On Monday, we'll see if Immortals, Jack and Jill, and Puss in Boots all landed above the $20 million mark and if J. Edgar debuts higher than its middling reviews suggest.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Paramount announces two more fourquels and one sequel

By Sarah Sluis

It's no secret that Hollywood has been pursuing more sequels in recent years. Despite all the complaining from those that want more original content, sequels continue to do well. Audiences already have an idea of what they're getting, and with rising ticket prices many people would prefer to bet on a sure thing.

What's surprising is that so many sequels are now reaching the "fourquel" stage. This year, two such Shrek forever aftermovies reached that stage: Shrek Forever After and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. It's not necessarily because studios expected huge grosses domestically, but rather predictable ones: both achieved their greatest success in their second incarnation, with sliding grosses since. Now Paramount has announced three more sequels, including two fourquels: Paranormal Activity 4 and Transformers 4.

Horror movies have more of a precedent for spawning multiple sequels. Scream had its fourquel just this year, and Saw yielded an astonishing seven movies. Final Destination just reached its fifth movie this year. Back in the 1980s, series such as A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, and Halloween yielded numerous sequels.

More unusual is that expensive action movies like Transformers can do well enough in their subsequent outings to warrant a fourth movie. Transformers 3 only did 88% of the business of Transformers 2--domestically. Internationally, the franchise earns more and more with each outing: $390 million to $434 million to an astonishing $770 million. Turns out the same holds true for the Shrek and Pirates of the Caribbean series. Even as domestic grosses flounder, the international box office surges. The proliferation of sequels may be less about Hollywood failing to find original product and more about the siren call of the international box office.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Will 'Haywire' make Gina Carano the next female action hero?

By Sarah Sluis

Who is Gina Carano? That was the question on my mind after watching the trailer for director Steven Soderbergh's Haywire. She has a cool, commanding presence, managing to look like she's an accomplished marine. The spy-action flick premiered at the AFI Fest this week, and THR critic Todd McCarthy has already weighed in and given the movie an enthusiastic thumbs-up. He praises Carano by way of Soderbergh, saying:

"In the end the show belongs to Soderbergh, who took a risk with a largely untested leading lady, and Carano, whose shoulders, and everything else, prove plenty strong enough to carry the film. The director shrewdly determined what she could and perhaps couldn't do, and she delivered with a turn that makes other actresses who have attempted such roles, no matter how toned and buff they became, look like pretenders.

After sampling the footage in the trailer, I agree with his statement. Carano looks so real. She's also not saddled with some of the ridiculous, objectifying costume choices that often accompany female action heroes. There's a reason Carano looks so good fighting. She's a ranked mixed martial arts fighter who has also appeared on shows like "American Gladiators."

The Relativity release will open Jan. 20, that post-holiday doldrums period. Yet the movie looks so much better than it needs to be. It's stripped down, with not a lot of expensive explosions--I bet this was a fairly inexpensive movie to make. Plus, there's no better justification for lots of high-powered, skilled fighting than a double-crossed spy dealing with her employers-turned-enemies, so forget having to suspend disbelief in order to enjoy the sparring.

With the exception of relative newcomer Carano, Soderbergh assembled a well-known cast: Bill Paxton, whose underrated voice is up there with his co-star's, Michael Douglas. Rising star Michael Fassbender (Shame), Channing Tatum, Ewan McGregor, and Antonio Banderas round out the cast. Wow.

Look out, Angelina Jolie. Carano looks like the new female action hero in town.

Monday, November 7, 2011

'Puss in Boots' enjoys back-to-back $30+ million weekends

By Sarah Sluis

Paramount's decision to release Puss in Boots one week early paid off. Last week, the CG-animated picture had a lower debut of $33 million thanks to Halloween celebrations and bad weather in the Puss in bootsNortheast. This week, the Shrek spinoff dipped just 3%, the lowest drop for a non-holiday saturated release. Now Puss in Boots has over $75 million in the bank, and one more wide-open weekend before animated competitor Happy Feet 2 opens on Nov. 15.

In second place, Tower Heist came in with $25.1 million. Many in the industry expected more, and certainly the action comedy's $75 million budget hints at larger expectations. However, the comedy earned raves in exit polls, which puts the heist film in a strong place in coming weeks. Tower heist group 2

When your Christmas release opens well before most malls have decked out their stores in red-and-green cheer, it might be a problem. A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas debuted on the low side of expectations, to $13 million, and I suspect its eight-week lead time on the holiday contributed to the lower take. The stoner comedy reportedly cost less than $20 million to make, so steady weekends through the holiday Harold kumar christmaswill definitely put the movie in the black.

In sixth place, Footloose showed a surprisingly strong hold, dipping just 17% from last week for a $4.5 million total. The dance remake has played strongly among heartland audiences. Moneyball, in the tenth spot, showed resilience in its seventh week, boasting just a 20% drop as it added another $1.9 million to its $70 million total.

On the specialty front, the documentary about punk rock dads, The Other F Word, opened to a respectable $7,000 per-screen average on two screens. Like Crazy went up 120% from its opening weekend to $270,000. The indie romance averaged $16,800 per screen in quadruple the locations (16 from 4). That puts the indie romance ahead of Martha Marcy May Marlene, which only earned $248,000 its second week, even as it played on double the number of screens. Still, the cult drama starring Elizabeth Olsen is also performing well for a specialty film, passing the $1 million mark as it earned another $471,000 on a run that now numbers 98 screens.

This Friday, the fantasy action drama Immortal will make a splash with a wide release opposite Adam Sandler cross-dressing comedy Jack & Jill. Director Clint Eastwood's J. Edgar will jump the gun, opening small on Wednesday and big on Friday.

Friday, November 4, 2011

'Tower Heist' and 'Harold & Kumar Christmas' bring comedy front-and-center

By Sarah Sluis

A comedy about huckstered ninety-nine percenters taking revenge on the one-percenter in their building? With Occupy Wall Street bringing income inequality back into the headlines, Tower Heist Tower heist group(3,367 theatres) appears perfectly poised to take advantage of its topicality. Some estimate the movie could pull in $30 million this weekend. Reviews have not been entirely unkind. Critic Daniel Eagan echoes the sentiments of many other critics when he calls it a "broad" comedy with "crowd-pleasing" elements. It's ultimately "undemanding," but that's the definition of escapist entertainment. The unlikely group of cast members includes Eddie Murphy, Ben Stiller, Matthew Broderick, and "Precious" star Gabourey Sidibe. However, they don't gel together: "No one character truly takes control," Eagan complains, making the comedy a "downscale Ocean's Eleven."

Ring the sleigh bells! A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas (2,875 theatres) has found a positive perch with many critics, who as a rule are unlikely to root for a stoner comedy directed at teen boys. Harold kumar christmas santaCritic Doris Toumarkine sparked to the comedy's liberal politics, which she says will appeal to anti-tea partiers. The 3D, too, features "clouds of pot smoke billowing towards audiences," which may be enough to fill the 2,943 3D screens and ensure the 1,000 midnight showings are packed. Toumarkine predicts this "comedy gift...assures more life for the franchise."

The Son of No One (10 theatres) is one of those movies with an all-star cast that ended up being not very good. Anchor Bay will give it just a blip release theatrically, then thousands of people will assume the "policier" with the cast list of "Al Pacino, Katie Holmes, Channing Tatum..." is a big-name movie they just haven't heard about when they hit "play" on Netflix. How wrong they will be, especially given critic David Noh's negative review, which calls the movie "obvious and wholly unconvincing" as well as "an unintentional spoof of Reservoir Dogs."

Charlotte rampling the look docAging punk rockers discuss the difficulties of explaining their R-rated tattoos to their kids in The Other F Word (NYC), which Noh calls a "hilarious investigation" into punk dads. Another documentary, Charlotte Rampling: The Look (2 theatres), offers an "admiring" peek into the life of the legendary actress with plenty of "movie talk" for cinephiles, according to Noh.

On Monday, we'll see if Tower Heist enticed the ninety-nine percenters to the box office and if young male viewers were enticed to leave their couches and have some early Christmas cheer for Harold & Kumar.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Indie distributors discuss 'State of Theatrical' at DOC NYC

By Sarah Sluis

One thing quickly became clear at yesterday's "State of Theatrical" panel at DOC NYC. It's impossible to talk about theatrical releases today without also talking about digital. Even with a digital panel occurring directly after the theatrical discussion, talk of VOD, Netflix, Hulu, and upstarts like Constellation were used as reference and comparison points.

Default-logoNo one seemed ready to give up on theatrical in the panel, which included Mark Boxer from IFC, Emily Russo from Zeitgeist, Matt Cowal from Magnolia and Ryan Krivoshey from Cinema Guild. Russo noted several times throughout the discussion that Zeitgeist does not view theatrical as a loss leader for later television or DVD sales, as many in the industry do. Their small company, which releases just 5-6 titles a year, has to try to make money on each movie. It's about "managing expectations," she says, doing "what we feel we can spend to support" a release. Boxer also noted that spends can always be expanded later in the game, citing Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work as an example. IFC expected the documentary to do $1 million. It ended up brining in $3 million, and more support was given to the film as it exceeded expectations.

Documentaries just don't earn as much as feature films, so what constitutes success in the documentary market? It turns out, more are successful than you think. Russo stated that half-million is a great number for a documentary to receive on the theatrical market, and everyone else on the panel agreed. Zeitgeist's third-highest grossing movie ever, Bill Cunningham New York is still playing at the IFC Center Bill cunningham new yorkwhere the discussion was held. It's been out 33 weeks. Russo attributed the movie's $1.5 million take to date to the "humanism" of Cunningham's character, and the fact that it showcased New York, New Yorkers, and lovers of fashion--the last a particularly easy-to-reach group online.

Bad reviews are the Achilles' heel for small docs that rely on positive critical response, but even worse is no review. The group talked about how they "die a little inside" every time a small town's film critic is laid off. When that happens, the paper will often reprint a review from another paper--most often The New York Times. For Magnolia's release Page One: Inside the New York Times, which was trashed by both that paper and the Los Angeles Times, that proved to be damaging. Cowal said they were able to get many other papers to run reprints of reviews besides the Times' for Page One, but a good review from the Times could have turned so-so business in the Big Apple into a blockbuster release.

Concurrent VOD/theatrical releaes are becoming more common. IFC does simultaneous VOD and theatrical releases for certain titles. Magnolia selects some releases to be available on VOD and iTunes one month before their theatrical release. When a documentary is only available in New York City anyway, this allows more viewers easy access to the title. It also provides lots of free advertising from cable companies and iTunes. The IFC and Magnolia reps talked about how titles that are "currently in theatres" or doing "pre-theatrical runs" get favorable placement and often free ads on the cable company's barker channel simply because they are using such a window. On the flip side, Boxer noted that they did not do simultaneous VOD for Cave of Forgotten Dreams and Buck because big theatre chains will not touch those movies if they're already on-demand. In general, Boxer felt that the big chains were more than willing to work with IFC. Since Cave of Forgotten Dreams was in 3D, Boxer's team had to ask a lot of theatres to give up a screen reserved for Justin Bieber: Never Say Never.

When it comes to simultaneous VOD/theatrical releases, these small distributors are the vanguard. Boxer cited the recent, failed attempt to release Tower Heist on VOD shortly after its release as an example of studios unable to do what these tiny distributors are already doing regularly. Though that failed due to pushback from major exhibitors, "in the future, they'll be in that space," Boxer said confidently. For many exhibitors, though, that reality is their worst fear.

DOC NYC continues through Nov. 10. Check the schedule of events here.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Director Terrence Malick suddenly prolific, with three movies in queue

By Sarah Sluis

After waiting years for writer/director Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life, I was a bit underwhelmed when it came out this May. What's wrong with a little narrative? Even so, Malick remains my favorite working director. No one else captures (or even cares about!) natural imagery the way he does. His films are like watching a "Planet Earth" that's subsumed to the narrative of the humans around the creatures and vistas.

MalickMalick is famously private and refuses to give interviews to the press. Until The Tree of Life, he also had a perfect track record (at least in my book). Given how few films he's created, I suspect he's a perfectionist. I wonder if mixed opinions about his latest work somehow freed him from a fear of failure, because he now has three projects in the works.

The first has already filmed and supposedly will be edited by 2012 (though Malick is a notoriously slow editor, often using the cutting room to transform the work).Today, the Los Angeles Times was able to scrounge up details about the plot. Ben Affleck stars as a philanderer who goes to Paris, encounters a European woman (Olga Kurylenko) and brings her home, marrying her for visa reasons. With the romance fizzling, he takes up with a hometown girl (Rachel McAdams) with whom he has a history. Javier Bardem plays a priest Affleck's character consults about his raffish ways.

Malick's other two projects will shoot back-to-back in 2012. Lawless stars Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara and Haley Bennett, who may be Malick's latest ingnue (he has cast unknowns such as Sissy Spacek and Jessica Chastain in the past). Knight of Cups, the second project, will also star Bale and Blanchett, though the movies reportedly do not relate to each other. That picture would also star Isabel Lucas, another young, relatively unknown actress.

None of the pictures has a U.S. distributor, though FilmNation has been serving as a sales rep and production company. Malick has reportedly already received offers for the first movie, though he has turned them down--an enviable position to be in. Let's hope his first movie squeezes into the end-of-year 2012 releases, but knowing Malick, such an optimistic timeline will be a longshot.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

'Left Behind' series in pursuit of a second big-screen treatment

By Sarah Sluis

The current success of Courageous, which was made for just a couple million dollars and has reaped fifteen times that at the box office, has all eyes on the faith-based movie market. Not every project is a success (see the recent The Mighty Macs), but movies such as 2008's Fireproof, last year's The Blind Side, which successfully marketed to Christians, and, of course, The Passion of the Christ show that movies that resonate with the faith-based market can tap millions of moviegoers who most likely select Left_Behindthe movies they see in theatres very, very carefully. The Left Behind series, which read like a pulp thriller but dramatize the end-of-times beliefs that are very real to many evangelists, has already been adapted for the screen. Kirk Cameron (of Fireproof) starred in the original, which made just $4 million during its brief 2001 run at the box office. Two more movies followed, Tribulation Force and Left Behind: World at War, though neither released theatrically. According to IMDB, the final film released in churches instead of in theatres.

Now there are plans to redo the series with a $15 million budget. (The trailer for the original suggests a lower budget than $15 million). The number is low given the amount of action involved, but THR labels it an "ambitious" project for the small, faith-based production company, Cloud Ten Pictures. A new screenplay was written by original writer/producer Paul Lalonde and John Patus, who consulted on or wrote the scripts for the three movies. The fact that the original players are involved doesn't suggest that the movie will have an entirely fresh take.

Left Behind is a disaster-fueled apocalypse that has very compelling moments. The book starts with a Left behind 2001 moviepilot's startling development that half the people on his flight have disappeared (they've been raptured). The pilot and his daughter, who were both left behind because they weren't true believers, become believers. They join up with others and go on a quest to defeat the Antichrist, who scripture says will rise to power after the Rapture.

As I wrote last week, apocalypse projects are all the rage now, so a redo could tap into a larger trend. If done right, the movie could expand beyond its Christian base, even if some viewers read the Rapture explanation as science fiction rather than religious probability.