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Friday, July 24, 2015

Another Shooting - Why Cinemas?

Cinemas, churches, and schools seem to be the favored venues for random shootings by crazed people intent on killing fellow humans and themselves.
Is this the answer for cinemas?

My heart sank yesterday when I heard that a disturbed individual (later identified as 58 yr. old John Russel Houser) had shot innocent moviegoers at the Grand Theater in Lafayette, Louisiana. The gunman killed two young women and wounded, at least, nine others before taking his own life. The shootings took place within an auditorium that was screening 'Trainwreck' to an audience of over 100.

Houser had some criminal history but it was old and he left no messages, notes, or manifesto behind to explain his motives.  The tragedy was simply someone who wanted to take his own life but through some pretzel-twisted, demented logic decided to take others' lives as well.

Lafayette is a quite town of about 120,000 and depicts the places where similar shootings have occurred in recent history. Small towns in out-of-the-way places which do not see a lot of violence, but which have become the scenes of mass killings since the 1999 saga at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, when two teenagers killed 12 classmates before killing themselves.

June 1999 - Atlanta, GA, 12 killed by gunman (including his family) before committing suicide
September 1999 - Fort Worth, TX, lone gunman killed six before taking his own life at Church
October 2002 - Washington, DC sniper attacks and kills 10
March 2005 - church in Brookfield, Wisconsin the scene of a shooting where seven where murdered
October 2006 - shooter kills five school-girls and wounds six others at school in Nickel Mines, PA                              before killing himself
April 2007 - irate student killed 32 and wounded 15 at Virginia Tech University before shooting
December 2007 - 20 yr. old shots and kills nine at shopping mall in Omaha, Nebraska
November 2009 - U.S. Army Major shots dead 13 and wounds 42 others during a speech at Ft. Hood,                              Texas
July 2012 - a masked gunman kills 12 and wounds 58 others at a cinema screening of Batman movie

Why all the violence? And why take innocent lives if your intent is to commit suicide?

The U.S. is a violent nation.  Since its inception 239 years ago, the U.S. has been at war - many times in more than one conflict at the same time. It's our way - but why?  Because the U.S. unlike all other nations is not a country but a company, and it is run (managed) like a company.  To me, whether or not there should be or not be stricter gun controls isn't the answer to the problem of mass murders - it is our way of life, our history, our heritage, and there is no changing that.

The U.S. is the third most populace nation on earth, so just based upon simple math we have more crazies than other nations - this, couple with our proclivity for individual freedoms and rights and you have the perfect storm for people who want to harm others and commit heinous acts of violence.

Cinemas, churches, and schools - innocent places where people congregate to exercise their freedom of choice and worship but no better places to commit murderous acts. This is not the last we will see of these types of offences against humanity.

Should the notice before a movie starts be, "Turn off your cellphone and make sure your concealed weapon is loaded and ready for use. This may sound trite but it may be what we are moving toward.

Jim Lavorato

Thursday, July 23, 2015

How Much Is An Oscar Worth? $10!

"Award winners should not sell or otherwise dispose of the Oscar statuette, nor permit it to be sold or disposed of by operation of law, without first offering it to the Academy for the sum of $1.  This provision shall apply also to the heirs of Academy award winners who may acquire a statuette by gift or bequest"  from bylaws of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences.

The Academy won a victory in court just last week on the issue of the sale of the Oscar - their goal, simple: to stop the sale of Oscar statuettes by pulling out a century old law regarding damaged fruit salad jars!

The lawsuit in question involved an Oscar won by Joseph Wright in 1943 for 'Art Direction' on the film 'My Gal Sal'.  Wright died in 1985 and his Oscar was handed down to his nephew, Joseph Tutalo. Tutalo wanted to sell the statuette and gave it to Briarbrook Auctions.  It was subsequently purchased, at auction, by Nate Sanders, Inc. for $79,200.  Sanders has purchased and resold over 30 other Oscars; however, this time the Academy got tough and sued Briarbrook, Tutalo, and Sanders.

The Academy referred to its by-laws (quoted at the beginning of this post) whereby recipients can not sell their Oscars without first offering to sell them to the Academy for $10 (it was originally $1).  The agreement is also binding on heirs.  However, Academy attorneys had to go back to the 1840's to make their case, that is when English courts established what is known as 'equitable servitude' - which means that parties can restrict the use of property, and under certain conditions, these restrictions can be enforced against successive owners.

In 1919, California adopted equitable servitude with regard to land, but is an Oscar equivalent to real estate?  Yes! Says the Academy. In a 1959 case which involved damaged fruit salad jars the court held that the sale of the fruit jars could not be sold as is because under agreement the fruit needed to be removed and re-jarred.  Citing that case, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Gail Feuer ruled in favor of the Academy.

The defendants argued that the Academy's policy restricted, unlawfully, the sale of Oscars by their owners. Which the Academy's attorneys countered, arguing that the Oscars were never intended to be treated as "articles of trade" and that their sale  'diminished the value of the Award". Judge Feuer, agreed and sided with the Academy. So, at least for now, all Oscar winners or their heirs need to hold on to the statuettes or they will be bought for $10 by the Academy. The defendants in the case are appealing the decision.

Hmmm...... seems to me the Academy's premise that the sale of the Oscars diminish their value is a bit superficial.  For me, $79,200 for a really no-name Oscar (sorry Mr. Wright) puts a rather high value on the statuettes and provides a good indication of their worth. It's the equivalent to a signed Babe Ruth baseball.


Social Media, Now Part of the Cinema Experience

Social media is now part of content consumption, including movies! This is especially true among younger viewers as social media outlets like Facebook, Tweeter, Meerkat, and Periscope have become part of their daily routine.   Social media has become so significant that it impacts the decisions of movie producers. For instance, certain movies increase in popularity due to their taking on a social media presence and the 'buzz' about that movie spawns increased attendance and fan following.

Social media has become part of the conversation and movie-makers are thinking about its impact the minute a movie goes into - not distribution - but at the first stages of development and production. Generating social media buzz is now as or more important to promoting a film than trailers, posters, billboards, and even TV ad spots. It has won a seat at the table of movie promotion and marketing.

Social media - huge impact
When producing a movie the process of creating a social media plan varies from movie to movie but for all blockbusters and tentpoles it's a must have. Not all movies are created equal. When it come to social media, some movies lend themselves to social media exposure while others do not.  Most importantly, the movie has to be one in which the audience can connect in some significant way - be it with the concept, the actors, the special effects, the story-line, the characters.  For example, potential moviegoers can tweet with the actors who star in the film, providing them an opportunity to connect and feel they are a part of the movie itself.

Purposely developing connections to a movie through social media platforms strengthen fan loyalty creating a great opportunity for fan participation which never before existed.


Friday, July 17, 2015

Amazon's New Movie is Puzzling

Why is Amazon Studio's first feature film (which is planned to have a theatrical release) a message movie?  With all of its financial resources and the knowledge that high-impact fantasy or superhero based movies dominate the box office why would Amazon's first foray into the movie production/distribution business be a film about inner-city Chicago?

The movie, entitled 'Chi-Raq' (a short play on the phrase 'Chicago Iraq')  is about violence in inner-city Chicago. Directed by Spike Lee and with a named cast, including Jennifer Hudson, Wesley Snipes, John Cusack, Angela Bassett, and Samuel L. Jackson, Amazon stated that the film will definitely have a theatrical release first, followed by an early distribution (four to six weeks after it screens in cinemas) on Amazon's Prime Instant Video ( its internet streaming service).

Amazon has stated that it is seeking to create 10-12 original movies per year that will have production budgets in the $25-50 million range - well below what would be needed to produce a box office bruiser and get cinema seats filled. This is what is puzzling.  Why make message movies when everyone knows these types of films get very little consumer viewing, regardless of the social significance of the subject matter.  Most consumers get more than they need on social issues via the day-to-day media reporting and social networks.  Moviegoing. and to a great extent TV viewing, is about escapism from the social rigors and stresses of day-to-day life.

Local politicians and residents of Chicago, as one might expect, have lodged protests denouncing both Amazon and Lee for use of the title 'Chi-Raq' in reference to gun violence that has left parts of Chicago akin to a war zone. Chicago is known as one of the most violence big cities in America. Its 'reported' murders last year numbered 415. This year, through June, the number of  'reported' homicides  was 294.  The FBI crime rate for Chicago is 485, the U.S. average is 294.  So, Chicago is a very violent city and has been for some years - but who wants to go and see a movie about this violence at their local cinema.  The City Council and Mayor Rahm Emanuel have requested a name change for the movie, particularly in light of the fact, that the movie received a $3 million tax credit from Chicago.

The movie's premise is a modern day version of the Greek mythological tale of  'Lysistrata', in which women withhold sex from men to end war - only is this case to end gun violence through a sex strike. Hey, maybe this movie is a fantasy flick after-all.

Spike Lee with John Cusack at press conference
Selecting Spike Lee was a good choice if your intent is to make a message film.  He is an acclaimed filmmaker but one who has not had a box office hit in many years. His last money maker was 'Inside Man' (2006) which grossed $184 million. However, since then he has had a string of duds, including: 'Old Boy', 'Miracle at St. Anna', and 'Red Hook Summer' 

Unlike Amazon, Netflix is going the mega-movie route - you know, the films people go to the cinema to see.  It recently inked deals with Brad Pitt, Adam Sandler, and Ricky Gervais and will shortly be releasing the sequel to the very successful fantasy film 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon'.

'Chi-Raq' is scheduled for release in December and it wouldn't surprise me that it gets an Oscar nod.  It's the perfect movie for Hollywood hoi polloi to grab onto.

Just saying,

Cinema Muses by Seymore Flix

Comic-Con Favorites
A Happy Lawrence at Comic-Con 

5 movies stood out as the big winners at this year's Comic-Com.  According to Twitter, the 5 movies that generated the most social media buzz were:
1. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay 2
2. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
3. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
4. Suicide Squad
5. Justice League

Of course the emphasis is on fantasy at Comic-Con but nonetheless the selections were interesting.
Jennifer Lawrence, the 'Hunger Games' heroine also got the top spot in "Most Tweeted-About Celebrities".  

Lawrence attended this year's Comic-Con and told the audience that her main reason for attending was to say goodbye to the 'Hunger' franchise - which made her a Hollywood sensation.

Resident Evil - One More Time

Jovovich as Alice in 'Resident Evil' saga
The final episode in the 'Resident Evil' franchise is coming to a cinema near you - 'Resident Evil: The Final Chapter'. The 'Resident' saga has been huge for star Milla Jovovich, who plays Alice - a zombie killer in the high-action sci-fi horror films.

Looking for a September 2016 release date, there have been 5 prior movies and all have killed the box office and thrilled its die-hard fan base.  The last episode, Resident Evil: Retribution released in 2012 grossed over $240 million.

Wreck-It Ralph -2
Ralph and friends

A sequel to 'Wreck-It Ralph' while bandied about for some time is now a reality and we will again see Ralph on the big screen.  This time around there will be even more cameo appearances by famous video game characters, including Angry Bird and Mario.

No release date has been announced but I expect to see 'Wreck-It Ralph-2' in last 2016.

Star Wars VII
Original cast showing age

As the name of the next movie alludes  ('Star Wars: The Force Awakens') - the saga has re-awakened after a 10 year sleep.  Shooting is now over and the film is in post-production in advance of its December release.

The plot of this movie, the 7th in the series, will be set 30 years after the events in 'Return of the Jedi'. This is so the original main cast won't look silly as they are much older and show it.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Those Dirty Little Minions

As predicted, Stewart, Kevin, and Bob killed it at the box office last weekend and will continue their performance through next weekend as well.

Universal took away the second biggest weekend gross for an animated movie with $115+ million (the cost of production was $74 million).  Internationally the 'Minions'  grossed an additional $200 million.  I expect the movie to gross well over half-a-billion dollars, and to no-one's surprise sequels are already in the works.

Speaking of the mischievous Minions, it seems a McDonald's Minion promo toy given out in Happy Meals 'swears'.  Parents in several states have lodged protests against McDonald's because they say the toy utters the expletive - "what the fuck".

Hundreds of parents have complained about the rude toy - not that their kids don't hear the f-word everyday.  But the very idea. I'm shocked!  My ears are violated by this most crude of all profanities. These potty-mouthed Minions need to be reprimanded.
Minion Toys

For its part, McDonald's announced that the toys are simply speaking Minionese - a random combination of many languages and nonsense words and sounds. 'O-pee-O' means 'love ya' in Minion-speak.  It's gibberish and nothing more.  In fact, I bought a McDonald's Minion Caveman Happy Meal to get the toy and listen.  To me it says, "para la bukay, hahaha, eheh".

I think these parents need to see a psychiatrist - like Freud, I think something happened between them and their mommies years ago.

Just saying,

Sunday, July 12, 2015

On Being A Hollywood Studio CEO

There is currently an on-going tug-of-war between movies and TV.  Giving audiences a reason to invest in a trip to the local cinema is 100% the conversation as Hollywood honchos decide on green-lighting projects.  Movies need to be seen as 'events' to entice consumers away from their 'small' screens. So, what drives the decisions of studio CEOs.

'Emotional Tie-in'

What Drives a Studio CEO ?
Moviegoers emotional tie-in or equity to franchise movies is a huge driver. The success of sequels that keep viewers coming back for more is the emotional tie they have for the characters.  'Fast and Furious' is the perfect example, as is 'Stars Wars'.  The saga continues and that 'emotional' tie is what studio CEOs look for in green-lighting projects.

'Recognizable Titles & Properties'

Finding new prospects that can be developed into multi-movie franchises is the name of the game. It's about acquiring valuable intellectual property (IP) and parlaying that IP into as many stories as possible - with the emphasis on characters.  That's what keeps moviegoers coming back for more.

'Long Time-frames'

When studios enter into mega-deals for major IP rights their goal, from the get-go, is making sure that everyone (screenwriters, directors, actors, special effects/creative directors, etc.) are all on board and know that the master plan is for sequels (and hopefully a franchise).  Five year plans, or longer, are currently the norm in Hollywood!.

'Social Media'

Every Hollywood studio CEO must listen to every bit of online chatter about a story or project - particularly regarding all tentpoles. Script leaks, casting leaks, character reveals can make or break a project.  Social media is a two-edged sword, the trick is paying too close attention can be dangerous because it might pull you in the wrong direction.  But, social media must be given attention and, if necessary, swayed by the studio itself (although no Hollywood honcho will admit to doing that).

So, there you have it. Being a Hollywood studio CEO is simple - just follow the four steps above and you'll be on your way to prosperity and fame.  Hmmm, something tells me this is easier said than done.



Thursday, July 09, 2015

Cinema Muses by Seymore Flix

Theatrical Release Window - Death by a Thousand Cuts

Yesterday, it was announced that AMC Theaters (the U.S.'s second largest cinema chain) and Cineplex (Canada's largest chain) had reached an agreement with Paramount Pictures to screen two movies and have then be available for home viewing within 17 days after their theatrical release.

The two movies are, 'Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension' and 'Scout's Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse'  This could well be the start of the shortening of the time period between cinema exhibition and home viewing from the now four month average to just six weeks.

The idea behind the exclusive theatrical screening window is that people are less likely to go to the cinema if a movie is available to watch at home within a short period of wait-time.  Vice Chairman of Paramount Pictures, Rob Moore, said that "Exhibition, for the first time, was open-minded about evolving our business instead of sticking their heads in the sand and ignoring what is happening around us.  This is all about changing the definition of the theatrical window.  Instead of starting the countdown from when a movie opens, we are starting from when it ends."

Paramount is planning to approach other U.S. cinema chains to see if they are willing to take the two movies under similar terms.  In return, exhibitors will get a cut of the rental income for 90 days after the movies theater release.

AMC's CEO, Gerry Lopez, told us that, "This is a prototype distribution model that may not be suitable for bigger titles. Exhibitors need to catch-up with their customers. Consumers know theatrical movies from their 'gotta see it now' release in cinemas, but every movie is different, and a one-size-fits-all model has never made sense."  

Paramount stated that it was in a "wait and see" on these two titles before working on more of the same deals, but stated imphatically that 'Mission Impossible - Rogue Nation' would not be included in this scheme.

As I've stated many times, the theatrical window will eventually be shut - so cinemas must be at the top of their game to keep moviegoers coming back.

MPAA 2014 Annual Cinema Report

The Motion Picture Association of America - Annual 'Report on the Cinema' was recently issued. I like to comb through the Report and look for interesting insights into what is going on in the world of the cinema.  This year's report noted the following:


The Global box office gross totaled $36.4 billion up slightly over 2013 and due solely from the Chinese market which increased by 34% to $4.8 billion in 2014.

Screen count worldwide now numbers 142,000 with over 90% converted to digital projection.


The United States (including Canada) recorded 1.27 billion admissions in 2014, which equated to each person going to the movies 3.7 times. Tickets sold to 40-59 year-olds were at all time highs while admissions of 60+ year-olds were the highest level in 4 years. So, older people are going to the cinema at higher rates then in the past. Surprisingly. 57% of admissions were women

Total gross was $10.4 billion down 5% from 2013.  As compared to other entertainment, cinemas ranked first to all rivals with 1.27 billion tickets sold. Theme parks had 379 million visitors while all major sports (baseball, football, basketball, and soccer) had 134 million event ticket sales.

The average price of a cinema ticket was $8.17 for 2014. Of moviegoers, 56% were Caucasians, 25% Hispanics, 10% African-American, and 9% Asian/Other.

Of all U.S. admissions, 20% were sold to the 25-39 age group, 20% to the 25-39 age group, 16% to the 18-24 age group, 14% to the 12-17 age group, and 13% each to the 40-49 and 60+ age groups. California had the most moviegoers followed by Texas, Florida, New York, and Illinois. 

The top 25 movies generated 48% ($4.9 billion) of the total box office - of these films, 14 carried a PG-13 rating, while 15 were released in 2D and 3D.   Curiously, of the top 5 movies (Guardians of the Galaxy, Hunger Games, Captain America, Lego Movie, and Transformers) 57% of the attendees were women.

# of Screens - U.S.

1-7 screen venues - 6,334 screens
8+ screen venues - 33,824 screens
Total                       40,158

Screens increase by 4% in 2014  and there are now less then 1,000 screens which have not converted to digital projection and film prints are getting very scarce.

Fewer Movies/Larger Grosses

If you go to the cinema, you've most likely noticed that most multiplexes are screening the same movie on multiple screens - two and sometimes three if it's available in 3D.  This may be due to the popularity of the movie but their may be a deeper reason.
Hollywood is all about blockbusters and franchises

As of July 4th, 323 movies have been released and 117 are scheduled for release through the remainder of the year - a far cry from 2014's 707 releases. Now, this year is going to be a box office record breaker but with many fewer movies.  The answer is that the major studios are producing fewer movies. Why? Because of the studios' unwillingness to make, and pay for, 'smaller' films. Right now, producing blockbusters and franchise movies, sequel after sequel, is first, second, and third priority, all other projects are after-thoughts and marquee fillers.

This trend has fueled film-makers to move to TV, where there are now plenty of very good series being produced for broadcast, cable, and pay-per-view streaming networks.  Like cinemas, the viewer now has the ability to binge view so an entire season of shows can be watched in a short period of time - commercial free.

So, is the cinema becoming less significant as an art form and is the commercial value of movies the only criteria to getting onto the big screen?  Yes! But change is inevitable and what the cinema will evolve into is something we can not yet imagine.

Just saying,

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Movies Spawn 'Big' Children

Over its 100+ year lifespan, the movies have begot any number of offspring, from DVDs - to TV networks - to toys and merchandise - but the biggest and most favored children are the theme parks.
Entrance to Universal's  Harry Potter attraction

Disney started it all and is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year.  There are now 6 major Disney resorts/theme parks: Land, World, Paris, Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Shanghai. Although in the shadow of Disney, Universal is also very much into themed entertainment. Disney was always about fantasy whereas Universal was reality - offering back-lot tours and featuring the how-tos of movie making. But as these siblings mature into adulthood all are taking reality and turning it into fantasy.

The current goal of the movie inspired theme parks is to put visitors inside the action.  For example, at Universal, which uses trams to transport visitors, the entire tram goes inside a gigantic simulator where riders are made to think they are inside a 'Fast and Furious' movie that involves a 120 mile-per-hour chase through downtown Los Angeles - combining fantasy with reality.

Big money is being spent on up-grading these fantasy parks.  Universal , which is owned by Comcast Communications, is spending $1. 6 billion to modernize its Hollywood park which includes the hugely popular Harry Potter attractions. Last year Universal Hollywood  had 6.8 million visitors. Disney Land - Los Angeles, 16.8 million attendees.  At its Florida location, Universal Orlando, runs second to Disney World but is growing in double digits.

Globally, Disney is by far the biggest movie themed park operator, followed by Merlin Entertainments which owns European parks and the LegoLand chain. Universal is third.
For its part, Disney is spending $1 billion to expand Disney Land  to accommodate the new 'Star Wars'  attractions.  Despite huge labor needs and required upkeep movie theme parks deliver in dollar terms.  Universal's parks generated $1.2 billion in income last year, in fact, the parks are much more profitable for Universal then its movie division (Universal Pictures).
Disney is betting big on  'Star Wars' Land

The movie inspired theme park attractions strive to put riders in fake peril to obtain the 'wow' factor: a natural disaster such as a flood or earthquake, or an up-close encounter with a robotic T-Rex. The studios are also introducing night time visits to the parks which will be a necessity given the high volume of visitors new attractions like Harry Potter and Star Wars will draw.

The movie industry has spawned many offspring during its 100+ years but none are more exciting, more real, more fantastic than movie theme parks, and it looks as though these children are growing up to rival their parent.


Thursday, July 02, 2015

Movies Can Not Be 'Local' - To Wit, 'Entourage'

The more myopic the movie the less box office interest it generates and Hollywood has to keep its eye on the 'global' market.  A movie that is too U.S.- specific just doesn't have the juice to bring in the big grosses anymore.
The ride stalled-out at the box office

A perfect, and recent, example of this is 'Entourage' - a very popular HBO series that ran for 8 seasons and which was release as a full-length feature on June 3rd. 'Entourage', a 'Bro-flick' (in contrast to a 'Chick-flick') is based upon the comic interchange between a film star, his 3 male childhood friends and his agent.  It is loosely based on the rags-to-riches career of Mark Wahlberg, who executive produced both the HBO series and the movie (which included all of the same cast members). Trouble is, the premise of 'Entourage' was too local, too LA-ish.

'Entourage' was DOA at cinemas and just took up marquee space. It was passed its 'sale-date' (the show ended 4 years ago) so why Warner Bros. green lit the $30 million budget  is a guess. 'Entourage' was a hold-over from the early 2000's, even its early fans had moved on to hipper content. To date,'Entourage'  has grossed $31 million domestically and a paltry $12 million internationally.
Storyline was too LA-centric

Summer is all about mega-hits not spin-offs of worn-put TV shows. Unless a film hits a real cord with moviegoers, i.e. 'The Help', it just isn't going to fill seats. Hollywood knows that films must have global appeal to have any chance for success. If a film's premise is too local (like 'Entourage' with its LA-centric theme) it won't even resonate  with a U.S. audience let alone a foreign one.

Prediction: there won't be an 'Entourage 2'

Just saying