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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Cinemas Turn On The Lights

How does a cinema determine when to turn the auditorium lights off and on when screening a movie? Do cinemas have any appreciation for the film when deciding when to flick the on/off light switch? Or are they just robotic in their care for the nuances of each movie they screen.

By law, cinemas must have adequate lighting for moviegoers to see where they are going within an auditorium - pre, during, and post screening. Most cinemas have lights up until the trailers start then they switch to half-up, when the feature starts lights, normally, go off except for aisle and exit lights.

Now, the vast majority of cinemas have automated lighting and dimmer systems interfaced to the projection system, so rarely does a human exercise discretion over the lighting on/off or dimming.
There is a credits off-set time on the actual hard drive the movie arrives on and which is ingested into the projection server.  The cinema places a cue in their automation system, which will bring down or up the lights at a precise moment in the presentation.

No two lighting systems are going to be the same from cinema to cinema and when many of today's films have med-credit and post-credit sequences when to bring up the lights is iffy.  For example, Marvel movies feature multiple post-credit sequences which set-up the next sequel in the superhero series. Many comedies have blooper scenes that run after the feature is over. However, lights will normally come-up automatically for those moviegoers wishing to exit the auditorium right after the feature ends.

So far as I know, no cinema has separate lighting policies for different genres of film - they simply set the cue according to their on-going practice. It is the policy of each cinema, guided by law, that set the lighting rules.

Stay in touch,
Jim Lavorato

Sunday, November 05, 2017

What's Next? For the Movie Industry

The third 'Thor' killed it, with a $118m opening as the first 'holiday hit' and broke the box office slump which only had 'IT' to look back on.

'Thor:Ragnarok', a Disney/Marvel product was welcomed by moviegoers with open arms and Disney must be credited with excellent pre-promotion of the film - which hooked in fans. Hoorah!

As we're all aware, there are profound changes going on in the movie industry as it tries to find itself. In the throngs of a diminishing release window and competition from all sides the movie industry, particularly exhibition, knows that what worked in the past is no longer of value today. Compounded by a lack of big name blockbusters and Hollywood sexual revelations the U.S. box office is down over 5% from last year.

What is needed is good product to 'draw them in' and an engaging experience once at the cinema. Disruptors, like Netflix, plague the industry by not only buying new product for their platform but also producing there own content. So, if you can't beat'em join 'em. Movie exhibitors should consider deals with Netflix to screen day-and-date with Netflix releases.

In addition, cinemas should be considering:

- Hooking-up with Netflix on their serial productions. Screening an episode each week of the most popular Netflix originals.

- Work with the studios on tiered pricing for films. Charging more for the 'biggies' ala 'Star Wars' or 'Thor' and less admission for marquee fodder. The day of the one-price-fits-all movies is OVER.

- A monthly admission is also worth exploring.

-There are still many engaging genre films but they are not promoted properly. Concourse Media's new Mediabill and Playbill in partner with exhibitors is a good first-start and should be expanded upon. This is particularly true for Horror films which have always been good grossers.

- It's not a question of not enough product it's a question of promotion (the studios) and fulfillment (the cinemas). Consumers need to be engaged- the need for entertainment must turn into a want to go to the local cinema

Stay in touch,
Jim Lavorato

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

AR & VR How Do They Impact The Movies

Concourse Media's developed Moviebill, an Augmented Reality (AR) based Playbill for the movie industry, is hawking its new wares to exhibitors.  Regal Entertainment, the second largest circuit in the U.S., has signed up and will began to use Moviebill next year.

How It Works

Each Playbill under the Moviebill moniker will promote one feature film in an AR experience -sharing behind-the-scenes footage, games, talent connecting, etc. Concourse is planning for Moviebill to debut in early 2018.  Regal would market this as a service to its moviegoers.

According to Regal spokesperson, Ken Thewes, "Moviebill provides an experience for moviegoers that helps bring the movie to life and promotes a deeper connection to the movies we exhibit. We believe Moviebill will help our goal of enhancing the moviegoing experience, providing movie fans more of what they want."

If it's experience moviegoers wish, Moviebill may be the enhanced preview (trailer) that will gin-up interest in any given film - it certainly can't hurt. No numbers were given as to the cost for Moviebill to the exhibitor, so we'll have to wait and see if the benefit at the box office out-weighs the cost.
This also presupposes a lot of movie fans have the required AR eyeglass to view the Playbills.

AR vs. VR What's The Difference

AR- Augmented Reality, takes current reality and adds something to it. It does not 'transport' the user to any other presence. Requires special AR glasses.

VR - Virtual Reality, transports the user to another place visually using a headset. VR is immersive while AR is not.

The VR business hasn't taken off as predicted by its stakeholders but it is progressing.  VR is available on gaming consoles and via mobile phone-based headsets.  Several companies have exited the VR business, such as Nokia, which halted development of its VR OZO camera system. Nokia cited, "slower than expected development of the VR industry".

According to Concourse Media, all of the major studios are working with it to provide exclusive AR experiences for the Moviebill scheme. 

Stay in touch,

Sunday, October 29, 2017

'Code of Conduct' for Oscars Academy

In light of the Weinstein scandal, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, has decided to institute a Code of Conduct for its members.

The Academy expelled Weinstein, only the second member to ever be expelled, two weeks ago and has now issued a statement that its full Board of Directors (which numbers 57) will address the issue of having a code of conduct at its December and January monthly meetings.

"We have no intention of functioning as an investigative body or moral court" stated Dawn Hudson, CEO of the Academy, " but we are concerned about sexual harassment and predatory behavior in the workplace, especially in our own industry. To the end, we are taking steps to establish a code of conduct for our members, which will include a policy of evaluating alleged violations and determining if action regarding membership is warranted."

The Academy is consulting experts in law and ethics to gain an understanding of what they should institute. The goal is to maintain clear standards of workplace behavior for all of its members.

It's high-time the Academy had a conduct code, given all of the past decades of transgressions by its members. Hopefully it will not be too little too late but be a code that is strict and quickly enforced if violated.

Stay in touch,
Jim Lavorato

Sunday, October 22, 2017

HORROR - The Genre of NOW

Horror may save the Cinema
Horror films are the truest example of escapism because unlike rom-coms, musicals, message dramas, historical pieces or even, high-impact action movies, horror as escapism reflects the traumatic times that are NOW.

Artificial terror is what the current moviegoer may be hankering. 'IT' may reflect the mood of the times - serving up oodles of fear and trepidation. A real symbol of the NOW, horror impacts all of us. Real or made-up it reveals a distorted, but related look into humanity as it now exists.

Horror films have always been known for their low risk/high return potential. With broad demographics and simplistic storylines the horror genre is about to save Hollywood and the cinema exhibition business. Easily adopted to sequels and reboots, horror has box office power.

As President Trump lamented during the campaign, "Make American Great Again", horror may be just what the local cinema needs to be great again.  Like America, horror movies are filled with baked-in fear and terror but in a perverse way are nostalgic and familiar.

So, go to the local cinema and scream, scream a lot for more horror.

Stay in touch,
Jim  Lavorato

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Hollywood - Killing The Golden Goose

Weinstein: Hollywood's Avatar
I guess you can't write a blog about news and commentary regarding the cinema industry and not address the recent and on-going Weinstein sex crimes scandal.  Unfortunately, Hollywood's problem runs much deeper and is changing the way the average moviegoer views the people that control and star in films.  More importantly, I believe, people are going to address their displeasure by not going to view films at cinemas, and will simply stay at home and very selectively pick and choose the films or TV shows they wish to see.

Everyone who is anyone in Hollywood knew of Weinstein's sexual predator conduct over the last 30+ years and to say otherwise shows how corrupt they really are.  Hollywood has become a nepotistic, greedy, cruel, and false place run by megalomaniacs - and everyone knows it.  The veil has been lifted regarding the totally corrupt, self-centered, misogynistic egos of this privileged, filthy rich caste that is now called Hollywood - tacitly endorsed, I might add, by many of the top females in the industry.

Birds of a Feather
Pontificating on political and social issues while living in compounds and estates, constantly presenting each other with awards and accolades, and living in a world so remote from the average that their only concerns are stroking their egos, buying homes, cars, jewelry, and over-the-top what-evers. Sex, drugs, overdoses, rehabs, reinvents, remakes, it's all about second chances, and re-finding yourself for the glitterati.    From Streep to Clooney, from DeNiro to Lawrence and all the way to Weinstein the whole thing stinks.  And it has got to change for it to survive.

Harvey Weinstein is the perfect avatar for Hollywood. A fat, sloppy, self-indulged, 'Aqualung' figure. A pig of a man who used his position, wealth, and cruel cunning to feed his sexual needs at the expense of young women and their naive view of the perverse Hollywood culture.

The Hollywood elite have it made yet they are traveling down a road of self-destruct.  Killing the goose that laid their golden egg they quickly need to reassess and shed their facade of phony liberal do-gooderism and address their dark-side and inner demons. If they don't they will loose their audience and not only them but the local cinema will suffer - and that is what I care about.

Jim Lavorato
Entertainment Equipment Corp.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

'SONIC' Goes Large

'Sonic The Hedgehog'
Any video gamer knows the game 'Sonic The Hedgehog' and Paramount Pictures thinks Sonic deserves a place on the big screen. The Sega video game franchise, of the same name, was launched over 26 years ago and has sold more than 360 million copies including digital games on consoles, tablets, and mobile.

For those of you non-gamers, the game features a hedgehog named Sonic who is on a quest to defeat Doctor Robotnik, an evil scientist.  The game has been enormously successful and established the Sega Genesis console player.

The film will be a combo live action and animation and will be Sonic's first film. CMG predicts that 'Sonic The Hedgehog' will be a big box office hit upon release.

Jim Lavorato

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Fandango: Getting Scalped In Ticketing

In the September issue of ScreenTrade Magazine, an article/analysis, of Fandango, the on-line cinema ticketing service, by CMG entitled 'New Fanbase', detailed why Fandango was in a downward spiral and destined to become a much less significant player in the cinema industry.

To bolster my analysis, I stated that Fandango's purchase of Rotten Tomatoes, the on-line movie critics service, was too little too late, as RT was no longer relevant given consumers use of social media and their own, instantaneous, reviews of movies.  It seems that this viewpoint has been validated as a recent study, conducted by the University of Southern California, and reported in last week's issue of Variety Magazine, found out just that!  The article in Variety, 'Rotten Tomatoes Scores Don't Impact Box Office', debunked the notion that Rotten Tomatoes had an influence on box office performance.

The study, conducted at the University's Entertainment Technology Center concluded that RT scores have a very small, if any, role in determining box office performance - good or bad.  "There is virtually no difference between Rotten Tomatoes' critical scores and audiences' scores and the more successful the film the smaller the difference" stated Yves Berquist, Director of the Technology Center, "which means that audiences are becoming experts at smelling-out bad films." To wit: they don't need Rotten Tomatoes for movie ratings and its use will eventually be rendered irrelevant.

For the full analysis go to the CMG post entitled 'Fandango's FanShop: A Bit Too Late' 3/18/17'

Jim Lavorato

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Theatrical Window Closes A Little More

Last week, Michael Burns, V. Chair. at Lionsgate Studios predicted that all of the major film studios would reach a deal with cinema exhibitors on the launch of a premium video-on-demand window for new theatrical releases within a year!

Speaking at a conference in NYC, Burns stated, "some level of PVOD offering will be available to consumers within 12 months once details, such as pricing and the length of time between a film's theatrical release debut and the early home entertainment offering are hammered out."  Burns went on to say that Disney would be the only studio that would opt out of the deal.

Under the proposal, the current 90 day window between theatrical and home releases would be shortened to 17 days - giving exhibitors three weekends for exclusive screening of any film.

CMG has always been of the mind that eventually all movies would be released day-and-date across all distribution platforms.  This deal moves the bar closer to CMG's inevitable prediction.

Cinemas, large and small, MUST prepare and ensure that their operations are running at max-performance.  Investment in high sound quality and best on-screen image is without question a must-do.  Showmanship and moviegoer engagement are requisite.  It is only in this way that the local cinema will survive.  In many cases, this will entail investment that cannot be fueled by on-going operations but from outside sources, such as loans or leases.

Jim Lavorato

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Fox Goes Family

Not to be outdone by a faltering Disney, 20th Century Fox is dialing-up the number of family films it produces. The Fox strategy is to produce and distribute a major animated film each year with several sub-majors during the year.

Up to now, Fox has not been producing any family-friendly animation but has been distributing pictures from DreamWorks, that deal is ending as DreamWorks was required by Comcast, which also owns Universal Pictures, severed the relationship.

To counteract this situation and to accomplish their goal of producing their own animated films, Fox has entered into a long-term co-production and development deal with Locksmith Animation.  Fox, which owns Blue Sky Productions, the makers of the 'Ice Age' films, plans on augmenting Blue Sky's slate of films.

Three projects are currently in development with the plan being Locksmith's first film with Fox will screen at cinemas in the fall of 2020.  Although tight-lipped about the project, rumors have it that the movies will be entirely original and not based on books or pre-existing intellectual property.

Animation is big at the boxoffice typically out-grossing most other genres. Locksmith originally had lined-up a deal with Paramount but that fell through when Paramount installed a new CEO, Jim Gianopulos, who didn't like the deal.

We wish Fox and Locksmith the best and look forward to their films.

Jim Lavorato

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Monster Opening, And We Need 'IT'

This summer's box office was a nightmare for exhibs. It was scary and there were many sleepless nights of worry.  Wouldn't it be ironic if a scary movie was responsible for bursting the summer b.o. doldrums.  Well it may just happen with the debut of 'IT' tomorrow.  The New Line film is expected to gross $75 million domestically and is what movie audiences have been waiting all summer for.

Reaching $75 would make this R rated horror film the biggest September opener of all time!  Coming off a summer which was the worst in 20 years, 'IT" will make everyone happy. It's not a sequel or remake - trends that may have been partially responsible for the lackluster b.o. of late. 'IT" seems to be reaching out beyond the horror hard-core and appealing to mainstream moviegoers, as well as, Steven King fans.

Rumor has it that a sequel is already in the works. As the current 'IT' centers on the children, the sequel will follow them to adulthood. No release date for the 'IT' sequel has been announced.

We are all hoping that 'IT" brings them back into the cinemas and is the start of a great fall and holiday season at the box office. We need something to scare us out of the current cinema blahs.

Jim Lavorato

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Cinemas Must Target Millennials

It's now official, Millennials (born 1981-1999) are the largest generation in U.S. history.  There are 92 million of them vs. 77 million Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) and the Mills are moving into their prime spending years.
You have to market Mills. 'socially'

They are moving up in the corporate ranks, starting up businesses, getting married, starting families, buying homes, and looking for engaging entertainment and recreation.  The Mills differ from the Boomers in that, for example, they don't value cars and don't allocate large portions of their discretionary spending on them.  They think Uber. They think a sharing economy.  They don't value luxury the way the Boomers do. They are mistrustful of high-price points and expect brands to offer premium performance . They think iPhone.

For entertainment they like dining out, live concerts, and blockbuster films.  They will spend hundreds of dollars to attend a concert of their favorite entertainers. They like (want) immersive entertainment and experiences. Most importantly, they have different ways of engaging the world and learning about products and brands. Given this, cinemas must engage Mills and market to them on their terms. Here are some hints:

- Mills. expect premium performance but with pricing that is inclusive and within reach
- Validate businesses via social media. So if you are not marketing via social get on it.
- Spend time in digital communities, blogs, etc.
- Heavily focused on mobile-browsing and instant information gathering
- React to digital, visual-only marketing
- When engaging with a business they expect vitality, credibility, honesty
- Positive reaction to promotional events and ads

Marketing to seniors is great but they are a dying customer base (literally). All businesses need to 'sell' to millennials and it is a very different sell. You must engage them and cater to their biases.

Jim Lavorato

Monday, August 21, 2017

Paying Admissions Forward: Will It Work

 CMG has previously posted about newly-hatched subscription based services were members pay a monthly fee for the right to go to a cinema and view a movie as often as they wish - the biggest of these being 'MoviePass' . At that time, CMG reported  MoviePass was having problems scaling its operation, but last week it shocked the movie exhibition industry by announcing that is was going to allow its members to view a movie a day for a subscription fee of $9.95 per month.

AMC Theaters, the U.S.'s largest cinema chain, quickly responded by announcing that it was going to pursue legal action against MoviePass. For sure MoviePass currently loses money but its scheme is that over time movie exhibitors and the studios will recognize their value and cut them in on increased profits, principally for higher concession sales. However, one of the big stumbling blocks is that most cinemas (large or small) have their own loyalty programs and prefer to enhance these.

According to Mitch Lowe, CEO of MoviePass, "we can increase attendance on average by 111%, increasing, not only admissions, but much higher concession sales." Currently, MoviePass purchases movie tickets and re-sells the tickets to its subscribers at a much reduced rate - losing money on each transaction.  But Lowe predicts that, in "the future they will cut the company in on their additional profits. We know we have to prove the value we deliver and we should be able to work together in a constructive manner so that everybody makes more money." WOW.

Well, where should I start? MoviePass may be a great idea but its implementation is unsustainable. For early subscribers it is a great deal, but how long can it last? Unless MoviePass can get the big chains on board, it's a doomed concept, and at the moment, it looks as though exhibitors are not embracing the strategy.  Overhauling the cinema admission business is quite simple - produce and distribute movies that consumers want to go to the cinema to view. It's not as if the folks will go to the cinema more because of a cheap admission to films they don't want to see anyway.

CMG believes MoviePass is missing the motivation of moviegoers - it's not all about price but product. 

Jim Lavorato

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Online Reviews - The Terrible Truth

If your cinema has a website and/or uses social media of any sort you are going to get reviews. Online reviews can be your biggest curse or the love of your life, and are one of the few things about your business that are totally out of your control.

A few words posted next to a five-star scale rating can be do or die for a business.  A recent survey by ReportLinker found the following regarding online reviews.

- The level of trust by consumers of online reviews is incredibly high.  59% of consumers believe that online reviews are as trustful as personal recommendations, with a full 7% saying that online reviews are more trusted than personal recommendations.

-33% of consumers go to search to find reviews, with 25% going directly to review websites.  That means that two-thirds of all customers go to other websites than yours to look for reviews.

- Besides search engines, like Google, top social sites for finding reviews were Facebook, blogs, and Twitter. 

- When taking about specific product reviews, Amazon and eBay lead the way, with 57% of consumers using them for product reviews.

- 51% of the surveyed respondents admitted they had written a review within the last 12 months.  49% said they review when they are very satisfied, while 34% said they review when very dissatisfied.

- Content matters most in reviews (not credibility). 62% of consumers said that content of the review was most important and not the credibility of the reviewer - now that's scary.

CMG's advice: be on the constant lookout for reviews about your cinema and address them.  Bad reviews can be very hard to cope with but nonetheless are real and have to be addressed. Be proactive with reviews and try to return comment for good and bad reviews.

Friday, August 04, 2017

The Plot Thickens: Telecoms Enter The Arena

Media: all things, for all people, all the time
If it wasn't bad enough with the tech companies entering the media/movie business with the likes of Netflix, Amazon, Google, Apple and others entering and grabbing up media companies and film studios but now the giant telecoms are entering the arena.

AT&T purchased DirectTV in 2015 and is now awaiting regulatory approval for its acquisition of Time Warner. That purchase would provide AT&T the Warner Bros. studio, HBO, and CNN, among other digital content providers. This is the new media landscape - and telecoms, like tech companies, want in on the action and profits.

AT&T's Mobility Entertainment Group, is spearheading its foray into mass media and according to Dave Christopher, its Head, "there's this big convergence going on between telecom and media and we believe the opportunity to create new and great experiences for customers going forward."

CMG believes that there is no one-size-fits all in the entertainment sector. Investment, acquisition, and merger across the media landscape is required to meet the wide variety of consumer needs - from movies at cinemas to sports on your wristwatch. Having solutions for different customers is the name of the game for media giants: movies, streaming, social outlets, and mobile distribution are all on the agenda.  All will be important to serve-up and fill the voracious appetite for entertainment that is now global in nature.

Friday, July 28, 2017

IMAX: A Case Study

Developed  in the early 1970s, IMAX offered a larger on-screen image with much higher resolution than conventional films of the time.  IMAX systems were marketed principally to special, non-profit venues such as: museums, aquariums, science centers, planetariums, etc. Content was 40 minute nature documentaries which were produced in collaboration with one or several of these special venue facilities.

Great, award-winning docu-films like, 'Mount Everest', 'Antartica' and 'Roving Mars' were produced and made the rounds of the increasing number of giant screen venues that were constructed around the world. However, these films were not profitable for IMAX and it was inevitable that they would have to venture into the main stream consumer market. Thus began the production and screening of docus like 'The Rolling Stones: Live At The Max' - but again the cost of production and limited distribution made profit generation illusive.

So, IMAX went wide and started to screen conventional films blown up to accommodate their large format. This became much easier when digital cinema was introduced and much less expensive. IMAX, for the last decade has become locked-into the Hollywood blockbuster and 3D genres.
However, IMAX stills suffers from its original problem - not enough content.

It's normally gangbusters at the boxoffice in the first two weeks of a run at an IMAX venue and then attendance dies off.  Price is one reason. In a quick survey, conducted for this article, the prices for admission to an IMAX ranged from $13.50 to $20.00. Another reason, is that conventional theaters have gotten larger with some auditoriums having screens as large as an IMAX and, in some cases, superior sound. This combination leaves IMAX theaters empty or near empty for weeks, with no new product to screen.

Lack of content will weigh heavily on the IMAX theaters going forward, coupled with increased competition from conventional cinemas and high admission pricing the outlook isn't rosy. We may see IMAX going back to its roots and revert to producing one-off documentaries for the special venue giant screen locations. Only time will tell.

Jim Lavorato


Monday, July 24, 2017

Body Language: It's How We Communicate

What Is Your Body Language Telling Others
Only 5% of our communication with others is verbal - the other 95% is communicated through our body language.  Understanding this non-verbal communication is crucial to getting the most out of our relationship with other people. We all have relationships with others on a daily basis.  The waiter, the store clerk, family members, co-workers, friends etc. we have relationships with everyone we come in contact with - and they are communicating with us via their body language.

In this two part post I will be discussing what to look for and what others are telling you through their body language and, perhaps more importantly, what you are telling them through your movements, gestures, and poses.

Worst Body Language Faux Pas:

- Avoiding Eye Contact: This is a signal of deception, or worse, a lack of respect. Keep eye contact with others in conversation.

- Slouching: Shows a lack of confidence and poor self-esteem. You are unsure of your position and signals weakness.

- Weak Handshake: Both men and women should have a firm handshake. A weak shake indicates a lack of authority. However too firm a shake for too long shows aggression and is just as bad as a weak shake.

- Folding Arms: Indicates discontent and lack of interest. Also signalling 'shut-down' and withdrawal in men and women but women may do this for warmth reasons.

- Looking Down: Particularly when making a salient point in a presentation or at a meeting looking down saps all the power out of your argument and indicates weakness.

- Angling Body Away From Others: Shows that you are uncomfortable, distrustful, or disinterested in the subject under discussion.

- Fidgeting & Touching Hair: Women do this but notice how many men fidget with their hair. This can reveal discomfort and anxiety, and a lack of self-confidence.

- Invading Others Space: 18" for N. Americans is about right. Being too close to others makes them feel uncomfortable and could show aggression on your part.

- Frowning/Scowling: The most unconscious of communications these facial indicators show unhappiness and/or disagreement.

These are a few of the worst body gestures or poses and are very telling about the feelings of others. Be aware of them when dealing with others and of using them yourself.

In the next post we will discuss the cross-cultural aspects of body language and signs.

Jim Lavorato

Thursday, July 20, 2017

H'wood's Aging Franchises

Domestically, once sure bet box office franchise films, like 'Pirates of the Caribbean' and 'Transformers' are now failing to fill seats at the local cinema.- making for a tough 2017 summer.

Big name franchises that the studios could count on for the next blockbuster sequel are now marquee fodder and are hard-pressed to justify their fourth and fifth versions. The studios have made little attempt to correct the situation and when they have the results have been depressing.

Recent attempts to build new franchises have failed. For example, 'King Authur: Legend of the Sword' from Warner Bros. was met with a box office yawn.  'The Mummy', which was touted as being the movie needed to kick-start Universal's Dark Universe of monsters and sci-fi creatures, failed to connect.

On the bright side, 'Spider-Man: Homecoming', was a successful reboot but it stands alone. 'War for the Planet of the Apes' held its own and cinemas are looking for big gates from 'Atomic Blonde', and 'Dunkirk'.  There is always an ebb and flow from year-to-year in box office results but this summer was not one where franchise films performed. It should be noted that what didn't do well domestically did very well globally.  For example, 'The Mummy' and 'Transformers' earned over 75% of their grosses overseas and 'Pirates' did over $565m worldwide.

This dichotomy in box office gate between domestic and international points to the fact that it is getting harder to create films that appeal to every audience around the world.  There is a disconnect between what plays well in the U.S. and what overseas moviegoers view as must sees.

Still, 2017 may not turn out all that bad, as the fall and holiday films look very promising. 'Justice League', 'Coco', and 'Star Wars: The Last  Jedi' will all be big hits and led the pack. They  may just push 2017 into record territory.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Eastwood Biopic to Star Real-life Heroes

Eastwood with real-life heroes/actors
Not many filmmakers would take the risk of casting non-actors as the major stars in a film, but Clint Eastwood is doing just that in his next movie entitled, 'The 15:17 to Paris'.

In this very risky move, Eastwood is casting Anthony Sadler, Alek Skarlatos, and Spenser Stone to play themselves in this bio-pic about three Americans who stopped a terrorist on a train bound for Paris. The three heroes will have major roles and be supported by professional actors. This film will be Eastwood's follow-up to the box office hit 'Sully' which starred Tom Hanks.

Eastwood stated that he began a wide-ranging search for the actors who would portray the three Americans.  The studio and Eastwood made their choices but at the very end and right before signing the contracts Eastwood decided to have Sadler, Skarlatos, and Spenser play themselves (the three authored a book by the same name upon which the movie is based).

The film will begin in their childhood (these roles played by professional actors) and depict their friendship leading up to the moment that changed their lives on the train to Paris. This will be Eastwood's third real-life hero movie following 'Sully' and 'American Sniper'.  Another film, entitled 'Impossible Odds' the story of Jessica Buchanan, a humanitarian worker who was kidnapped while working in Somalia and later rescued by Navy Seals may be his next.

This film will be another box office winner for cinemas and CMG believes will be bigger than 'Sully' or 'American Sniper'.

Jim Lavorato

Friday, July 14, 2017

Studios Try To Fight Back, Is It Enough

Back in 2014, Disney acquired an on-line production company called Maker Studios for $675 million.  For almost three years nothing was heard of Maker and what Disney was to do with their new internet venture. In 2014, Maker was comprised of over 60,000 YouTube channels (yes, that's right 60k) and had no real mission other than to produce a myriad of live streaming videos in the hopes that several would stick and develop an audience.

Obviously Disney had other plans. Coming out-of-the-closet last week was 'Disney Digital Network'  A newly formed entity that is a blend of the former Maker Studio and Disney's own brand of on-line entertainment.  Pared-down to less than 1,000 channels, the new venture will focus on a singular audience - a Disney family-friendly audience.

So, after  a whole-lot of reorganization and restructuring, Maker has now officially been folded into the Disney family and ready for it's debut as part of the new 'Disney Digital Network'.

Disney has big plans for its digital network which will encompass a broad range of digital channels, all of its social accounts, home websites like Disney.com, and a separate content studio.  Disney believes that the resulting network will be able to reach 1 billion consumers globally and be heavily skewed toward millennials and Gen Z viewers.

Disney has been a leader among the studios in embracing the inevitable digital onslaught and has, thus far, managed both the movie and web-based audiences each serves extremely well.  Problem is that serving both, over the long-haul, takes lots of money and lots of talent and Disney may not be up to the task by itself.  CMG believes that over time Disney, like the other studios, will have to partner-up with one of the big tech or communications companies, my guess is Apple.

Jim Lavorato

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Auto-Generated Movies, It's What's Next

You heard it here first - movies generated by computers using Artificial Intelligence.  Given some of the movies I've viewed in the last few years this is probably a move forward in film making.

For years filmmakers, writers, musicians, post-houses, etc. have used technology to better their work, making it easier and more efficient and given rise the the myriad of content the industry has become saturated with.  So, it was only a matter of time until AI auto-generated movies would come to be.

Technology has assisted in all of the creative aspects of movie-making and now is the time when the 'assist' becomes the 'do'. To prove the future, IBM sponsored 'Storytellers With Watson', a two-month contest on how media and entertainment pros can use AI in film making.

The winner of the contest, Seth Grossman, developed what he called, 'Rip-o-matic With Watson' which recognizes meaning in images and language for video (film) editing to automatically generate a sizzle-reel preview of a movie or TV show based on the script.  Grossman's idea is to use AI to analyze, index, and splice together rips (known in filmdom as takes) from videos that represent a film maker's vision, by recognizing information in images, as well as, classifying their meaning in sets of written information.  The AI software, Watson, would find and splice together the content that best matches the script, including specific lines, time periods, and locations. What this all means is that the winner is the audience, because as Rip-o-matics gets better and more refined better movies will be made.

Obviously the whole concept of using AI in making movies is still in infancy but the writing is definitely on the wall. The other finalists in the IBM 'Watson' contest proposed using AI for choreography assist, to simplify script review, to improve film marketing, and to enable real-time language translation.

According to IBM's Rob High, "Technology helps all of us find opportunities where we didn't know it existed. We can use cognitive computing to help us to make better decisions." 

An area where Watson is currently being used is for an AI program called 'ScriptAloud'.  which uses Watson's Text to Speech Analyzer to transform written scripts into audio files available for casting directors and producers so they don't have to read film scripts.

CMG firmly believes that AI generated films are not that far off - it's tech trumping media once again.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Anime: Cinema's Next Blockbusters?

There are millions of amine fans throughout the world. Normally males in their twenties amine fans are totally dedicated and fiercely loyal.
Fans at Anime Expo

Anime is essentially adult cartoons.  Started in Japan the genre has become huge and a gathering of thousands took place in Los Angeles this week for the annual Anime Expo.

Heretofore, anime was in book form or video over the internet on such streaming channels as 'Crunchy Roll' or 'Hulu' but last year big tech entered the world of anime - and in a big way.  Seeing the potential of a massive global fan base, both Amazon and Netflix entered the fray.

Anime has serial shows. For example, Amazon is streaming a show called 'Scum's Wish' while Netflix 'Little Witch Academia'.  Additionally, there a hundreds of series and movies from Japan, which are all accessible on line. Anime has gotten so big that Amazon recently launched a subscription service dedicated to the genre called, 'Anime Strike' and Netflix is starting to produce its own original anime content. Both streamers are also buying content directly from Japanese anime production companies.

This new and growing genre has not gone unnoticed by the Hollywood studios and, I believe this could develop into seat-fillers at cinemas. Anime on the big-screen has to happen. Not only are the stories and characters known by vast numbers of fans but anime could replace comic superhero films which are fatiguing.  In addition the anime market, is replete with merchandising of themed toys, snacks, and a huge array of consumer products from T-shirts to key chains.

Two of the biggest U.S. based anime streamers, 'Crunchy Roll' and 'Funimation'  have large fan bases of their own. 'Crunchy Roll' ranks in the top 10 overall subscription services, just below HBO and ahead of Showtime and Funimation  isn't far behind.  Make no mistake, anime is big business and growing rapidly. 'Crunchy Roll' costs $6.95 per month, while 'Funimation' is $5.95. 'Anime Strike' is $5 per month but requires an Amazon Prime membership. 'Daisuki' another popular streaming service is $5, as well.

CMG believes anime will be a big on the big screen. It's apparent that the genre has a large, dedicated and growing fan base which cannot be ignored by Hollywood. Anime will pick up the slack of the Marvel and DC comic characters-which are fast becoming old. Do we really need another 'Iron Man' sequel?

Jim Lavorato

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Exhibitors FINALLY Get Smart ... and Unite

GCF too little - too late?
Motion picture exhibitors have finally joined forces by forming a global alliance to address major industry issues that have been impacting them for decades. Long in coming, this type of collaboration attests to the slow, myopic nature of the cinema exhibition industry and the ineffectiveness of their trade groups.

However, at last, in an effort to present a united front a group of exhibitors has formed the Global Cinema Federation (GCF), a new group that will represent many of the world's major cinema operators.

Membership is open to all exhibitors with at least 250 screens and the national trade associations. Smaller exhibitors will be allowed to support the Federation and will be kept abreast of all of its activities and developments.  The first meeting of GCF was held during the recent annual CineEurope Convention in Barcelona and will meet again during CineAsia and CinemaCon.

Facing a diminishing distribution window, internet content streamers, piracy, poor studio relationships, and ever improving home entertainment cinema exhibition does not portend a rosy future - hopefully the GCF will provide a much stronger voice on behalf of the global exhibition community. Alegendro Ramierez Magana, CEO of the Cinepolis Cinema Group, and one of  GCF's prime movers, told CMG, "we are still working on the exact role of the Group and developing our positions on key issues, lobbying role, and education."

Members include: AMC Theaters, Cinemark, Cineplex, Cinepolis, Cineworld, Event Cinemas, Les Cinemas Gaumont Pathe, Regal Group, Vive International, Wanda Cinema and others, including trade associations: International Union of Cinemas, and the National Association of Theater Owners.

CMG wishes all the best to the Global Cinema Federation but believes it is too little - too late. A group such as this should have existed decades ago when they might have had some clout. Now we are too far down the road - there is no stopping the internet streaming juggernaut and no real strong cards for exhibitors to play.

Nuff said,

Jim Lavorato