Monday, July 07, 2008

Back from Charleston and a Question Regarding "Hancock"

Hello all. Hope everyone had a great 4th of July weekend.

The wife and I are back from our weekend stay in Charleston, South Carolina. We watched fireworks (shot off the deck of the USS Yorktown), ate shrimp (at the touristy and so-so Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.), bought books (at Charleston's sole used bookstore, the very charming Blue Bicycle Books), and ate amazing seafood (courtesy of Hyman's Seafood). Yeah, mostly we ate. What of it? We walked, drove, read and ate, but it was fun and felt like just what I needed to face another month at work.

I read in the short time I've been back that the new Will Smith movie, "Hancock" did crazy business over the holiday weekend, earning $107 million over the 5 and 1/2 days since it opened. According to Nikke Finke's article, the reviews were only 33% positive and the "buzz" only "so-so" -- so why the massive total? I heard the studio was shooting some very last minute reshoots after some worrisome test screenings and there was some serious fretting amongst executives that this was just not a very good movie, but I guess none of that trickled down to audiences.

Is it just Will Smith that packs him in? Is Will Smith the last movie star? Meaning is he the only guy or gal left who can pack them in and make serious cash for a studio no matter what movie he's opening? It sure seems like it. So was it the premise that brought everyone out? Was it the generally good weather and nothing much else to do on a hot holiday weekend? Or was it just Will Smith? I have to ask these critical questions because I like to blog about movies, and I haven't actually seen one in the theater for a record 2 weeks. I still haven't checked out "Wall-E," "Wanted," or even "Iron Man" for a second time, which I'd kind of wanted to do. Damn you job that demands the not-explicitly-asked-for-but-just-kind-of-understood-that-everyone-works-overtime overtime! I'm hoping to get to the theater sometime this week -- if I do, I'll say something about it right here. Stay ... signed on?


Anonymous said...

I'll go with Will Smith as the reason along with 30M in P&A.

Will Smith is a brand, doesn't matter regarding quality of film.

This is where we are with Hollywood films.

1) There is no distribution for truly indy films (this is why self-distribution is such an attractive option - READ UP ON HOW SUNDANCE WINNER BALLAST DECIDED TO GO THIS ROUTE on
The Director is raising 250K more to self-distribute versus going with a speciality distributor which doesn't pay a minimum guarantee that will cover the costs and P&A has been too low. Not only that - their contracts stipulate complete control of the project - including all exploitation on internet. So, the director has decided to take this insane job on of making relationships with theaters, cineclubs, universities, film societies, on-line, and other VOD organizations to get the film out there and purchased.

Nowadays - an indy film that is self-financed or privately financed can only obtain critical reviews through festivals and possibly industry word of mouth and thus can only serve as a calling card for future work in the corporate sphere. So, filmmakers better have 5-10 scripts that are commercial as a backup. The only reason David Lynch and Jim Jarmusch keep making their own personal, unique movies -and the world is all the better for it - is due to financing coming from abroad, most notably France and Japan - not the USA. So, my opinion is that there are independent voices available in film - but just don't have access to a delivery mechanism that isn't controlled by the country club that acts as a form of censorship and hides behind the "market" as reason for its excuses.

2) Corporate Independent films (funded by studios specialty arms) are experiencing trouble at the box office. 30 years of mass advertising of shit films has truly brainwashed the public - coupled with the decreasing intelligence and critical inquiry, attention span of audiences and you get Janos' foreshadowing of "AUDIENCE IS IDIOT". So - specialty arms are closing down, attendance is down at art house speciality theaters and to make matters worse - most "indy" films done by studios and production companies (like the Miramax's of the world) - are usually predictably quirky genre movies with highly polarizing themes or content. Notice how NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN - did not make too much money. Then - how does a true independnet artist (READ SOMEONE WITH NO CONNECTIONS)compete with this world which is inhabited by all of the A list artists in H-wood who still want to make decent films? Moreover, P&A is not so hot here either as these "prestige" films are targeted to specific demographic markets and only released to a limited amount of theaters. Moreover, films don't get the time to develop word of mouth and then get lost in DVD oblivion. No money behind it - not movement.

3) That takes us to the big budget shit fests - which are dumbed down, consumerists rides for the brainless masses (who are asses). A studio dumps everything into this - (although the specialty films seem to take in a higher ROI (Return on Investment) than the blockbusters) - these films take $100-300M to make, $50M or more to market (film released on 3000 or more screens,cross advertising with other corporations), employ an immense number of people, and sometimes push the industry forward in technological innovation but mean nothing to culture and the evolution of humanity (like film did historically once a upon a time). What's worse - is that like our addiction to oil - these films are getting more expensive to make without the previous benefits. Yet - they still focus all of their energies into this complete waste of money and time.

Severe cost escalations have also come not through SAG contracts or unions but through supply and demand. Actors salaries are very excessive along with the multiple Executives who coast along for the ride and bite off the fat of the production budget. Studios need to create a BRAND out of the actor - this has been going on since the start of film! All of the tabloid news shows, magazines, ect are there to prop up the myth of this douche actor to keep things riding. Not to mention - many of the film finance firms are heavily debt leveraged, many with hedge funds! So the money going into films are from speculations from debt!!! Wonder why Spielberg is partnering with an Indian firm for 1.5 billion?

At the end of the day - one must ask - who makes the money here? Probably a handfull of creative people, a ton of high level moguls and executives. I used to recruit for studios and can tell you the stuidos pay their white collar workers notoriously low amounts!

Moreover, most big budget movies don't reflect our reality - but push a consumerist ethos that drives an inefficient system forward that neglects its best voices.

It's surprising that a movie like WALL-E even gets made. I saw this with my kids in LA on Saturday. It was brilliant - one of the best films that I have seen this year - and wondering how something like this made it through the gauntlet. Yet, its political themes (so blatant in the film) are kept subtle or covered but nonetheless this was its CONTENT. Nowadays, one must be subversive to combat the cacophony of distraction.

Finally - it was interesting to see all of the mindless consumers in the theater (saw it at the EL CAPITAN on Hollywood Blvd.) Had no idea that this was a Disney owned theater. People were gobbling up B-S- and then being punished for it by watching WALL-E. It's no wonder that S&M is so popular in our culture and that Guilt-Free Ice cream exists! Where is George Carlin when you need him!


Speck said...

Not sure that I could eat at a restaurant called "Hymen Seafood."

But that just stayed away from any red sauces, right?

harwell said...

That's "hyman" with an "A". But, yes, still kind of gross. Although, mmm...seafood. Sounds good. I dig Charleston. Neat town, glad you had a good time.

Papa: No Country made almost 75 million domestic and 86 million in foreign. That's a pretty great haul for a movie of that size and that subject matter. It's also the most money any Coen Bros. movie has ever made (the domestic gross alone was more than O Brother's COMBINED gross, if you can believe). Not to pick nits or anything, but there is still some commercial hope for films like this, you know, good films like this and There Will Be Blood that you hated (I keed, I keed). And if there are independent directors operating on micro budgets who have the skill and vision of the Coen Bros. then you have to believe the system will welcome them into the fold eventually. That kind of talent won't be ignored.

As for Will Smith, well he's basically bulletproof at this point. It's amazing to think about where he is compared to where he started his career. I think he just speaks to a wide demographic. Film snobs know now that he can indeed act and people who only go to the movies a couple times a year know that if they see a Will Smith movie in the summer they're likely going to be entertained. He doesn't seem to take himself too, too seriously in interviews and he hasn't really had a big misstep in his private life (though I think he's a scientologist now which is thin ice for PR matters). He's like a goofy version of Denzel, though I think at the moment he's actually more exciting to watch than Denzel because he's not stuck in one particular rut. Granted, I haven't seen Smith's last three films but they seem wildly different.

And, yes, WALL-E is brilliant. Best movie of the year so far.

Anonymous said...

Harwell - all valid points you make my compadre.

Although check this article out:

As for THERE WILL BE BLOOD - I just passionately disagreed with the subject matter and the emphasis on a one note mysanthropic character. If it was a study of greed and avarice - then it left much to be desired for it certainly did not tackle the socio-political landscape of the growth of the oil industry nor did it help us understand why or how the times shaped Daniel Plainview. Although, the first 30-40 minutes of the film were worthy of classic status until it decayed into a mono-directional mood piece.

As for Cohen Brothers, NO COUNTRY - let's look at its numbers...

Produced by Paramount Vantage (Specialty Indie arm) - so they can take care of "special artistic projects in how they are released, advertised, etc".

Distributed by Miramax (who is owned by Disney).

Budget: $25,000,000 (which I don't consider as a true indy budget really, but its still small compared to typical studio fare).

P&A: probably $5-10M or more coupled with success at Academy Awards helped its late current run on DVD.

Theatrical Performance:

Total US Gross $74,273,505

International Gross $86,314,961

Worldwide Gross $160,588,466


Home Market Performance
US DVD Sales: $44,526,167!!!

** This is substantial - I hypothosize that it was the buzz from the Awards shows that wet everyone's appetite and curiousity to see it later. So, it seems awards shows are excellent advertisements for one's films even if you are working in the corporate world of Hollywood.

Also, if you take a $25M budget + 10M P&A needed then they required to make more than $35M to cover all costs period.

Theatrical gross - DVD gross = $30,000,000 - which is not too much. In the US market the film did not perform too well, barely breaking even. Granted it was only in limited release (120-240 screens) and then Miramax slowly pushed it in anticipation for the Awards shows to over 2,000 screens. Once it gained notoriety there - the DVD market followed.

However, the International Market saved this movie. $86M is wonderful figure but also due to very smart casting. Javier Bardem is an international star that means BANK overseas to foreign exhibitors. For example: Spain brought in over $11M in theatrical grosses alone!

Also, some other important intl theatrical grosses:

UK - 13M
Portugal: 10M
Italy: 8M
Japan: 3M
France: 8M

Well Harwell, I guess I will just have to eat my shoe. Just from International theatrical, Paramount Vantage covered their production budget and made some money. However, US theatrical is a dud - and nothing more than an advertising platform for awards shows and festivals - which later turn into DVD and ancillary sales. Although, that is a big maybe that depends on various factors going right.

And it would have been worse if this wasn't a Cohen Brothers film (they have own distinct brand like Lynch or Almodovar), a genre film based on a highly known author, a decent A list stars like TOMMY LEE JONES - don't think Josh Brolin and Woody Harrelson mean to much though in US market)...

Released November 9, 2007 (limited)
November 21, 2007 (expansion to wide release)
March 11, 2008 (DVD Sale)

Still, this was a smaller scope genre film (revisionist at least) - and it did a modest amount. Imagine how difficult it would be for a true indy film to make any money in the marketplace, especially with the oversaturation of movies out there!



Craig Moorhead said...

I would comment on this entire post, but one point made me cringe: don't you dare work unasked for overtime, Brian Crane. If they want your free time, then A) they better get down on their knees and beg you for it or B) you better be whole hog in love with the work that you're doing. If A or B are not true, C) your way outta there...

blankfist said...

^Apparently Craig wants you to be unemployed. That selfish bastard.