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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