All posts by Nikki Finke

Midday Friday Box Office: #1 ‘Lucy’ $34M, #2 ‘Hercules’ $28M As Summer Slump Continues

herc lucy posters2FRIDAY 12:45PM UPDATE: Full analysis later. But writer/director Luc Besson’s Lucy (3,172 theaters) starring Scarlett Johansson for Universal is targeting a $12M to $14M opening today and a $32M-$35M weekend start as an easy #1. That includes $2.746M from 2,386 Thursday late shows (following an early AMC theaters reporting glitch). Pic is outmuscling #2 Paramount/MGM’s Hercules (opening at 3,590 theaters including IMAX). Directed by Brett Ratner and starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as the ancient Greek strongman, BOupdated200film is looking like $9M to $11M today and $26M to $29M this weekend. The hunk started its first weekend with $2.1M from 2,053 Thursday late shows which, as I said earlier, bodes well for the higher total. Both films had almost identical better-than-middling scores on Rotten Tomatoes (65% to 63% fresh reviews). But domestic box office for Summer 2014 continues down -20% for the worst May-through-August in 8 years when, for the first time since 2001, no film has crossed $300M in North American runs. Remember, however, that Uni’s Fast And Furious 7 was postponed from a July 11 release due to Paul Walker’s tragic death and could have contributed another $200+M.

According to Fandango, the female-powered original was leading weekend ticket sales and outselling recent Tom Cruise comps like Oblivion and Edge Of Tomorrow. With a $40M budget from the filmmaker’s EuropaCorp shingle, Besson – after La Femme Nikita, The Professional and The Fifth Element – plays off Johannson’s recent turn as Black Widow in the Marvel franchise and an artificially intelligent being in Her. (Though one review said the goofy and loppy Lucy plays "more like a big dumb superhero flick" than sci-fi.) In the pic, rather than a superhero, Johansson plays a super-human increasingly unlocking her brain capacity from the alleged 10% which most humans use to fully 100%  – and havoc ensues. Of course, who among us employs less than 10% and willingly believes all the untrue bullshit like this  that movies spew.  But the studio is high on the pic noting, "It’s one of this summer’s very few R-rated films outside of the comedy or horror genres and was tracking strong across age, gender and ethnic segments with interest that appears broad and inclusive."

Hercules is based on Radical Comics’ "Hercules" by the late Steve Moore. Ratner takes the mythical hero and son of Zeus and turns him into a very human mercenary in this popcorn pic which cost $100M and hopes to finally launch another franchise (unlike The Legend Of Hercules which bombed with an $8.9M debut earlier this year). The film was written by Ryan J. Condal and Evan Spiliotopoulos. Hercules is expecting to do much of its theatrical biz overseas and started in 11 markets Thursday including Russia ($2.6M) and Australia ($590K) with $5M total internationally. Strong figures also came in from Southeast Asia. Film opens in 19 foreign markets including the UK this weekend.

Finishing out the Top 5 are all sequels: 20th Century Fox’s Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, Universal’s The Purge: Anarchy, and Disney’s Planes: Fire & Rescue.

Behind-The-Scenes With Sony Pictures’ Problems: Part One

On June 19th, I emailed Sony Pictures Entertainment Vice Chairman Jeff Blake and asked if he was leaving the studio. "Up in the air. Will know soon. Promise to tell you," he replied. To which I responded, "OK. Please tell me first." His Sony bosses Michael Lynton and Amy Pascal were trying to force Blake into retiring rather than demonstrate to Hollywood that they were firing the beloved 22-year studio veteran as the sacrificial lamb for all of Sony Pictures’ many problems. Sony PicturesDuring the last 3 years, the studio’s summer event pictures had not lived up to expectations beginning with 2012′s reboot of The Amazing Spider-Man. What no one knew is that Lynton and Pascal had nearly fired Blake exactly a year ago as the fall guy for Summer 2013′s box office disappointments like After Earth, White House Down, Smurfs 2, and Elysium. Just like she’d done during last summer referring to Blake’s health, Pascal a few weeks before Blake’s forced departure on Tuesday was again mentioning to media that, after 22 years in his very exacting big job, it was time "for Jeff to take care of himself". What she really meant to say, but didn’t, was "for Jeff to take the heat off Michael and myself".

But, at only age 61, Blake felt he wasn’t finished overseeing worldwide movie marketing and distribution at the job and the studio that he loved. "They wanted me to say I am going to retire, and I wouldn’t," Blake told a pal. "If I really thought I was losing something, I’d kind of know it in my heart of hearts." Lynton and Pascal finally were able to buy him off. "It was done very nicely. Jeff has less than a year left on his contract so Amy and Michael gave him a lot more money than that. And with no contractual responsibilities after August 1st because Jeff wanted to find a new job immediately," an insider told me. And he will, no doubt.

The announcement of Blake’s departure was made on Tuesday. He kept his word and tried to tell me first but Lynton had already made a deal with Deadline. (Blake did call me early that morning, only I was fast asleep after a late night of reporting.) Later that day Blake turned in his Sony Blackberry and set up a personal gmail account. He was out. It followed a dismal Sony Summer 2014 box office when the reboot sequel The Amazing Spider-Man 2 disappointed (more on that in upcoming Part Two), several other films fell short, and last weekend when Sex Tape bombed. The timing made it look as if that was his fault, too. "What I’m telling my people on the way out is, ‘Tell the truth’. You just can’t give everybody what they want to hear. And to test films outside of Los Angeles. They loved Sex Tape in LA but not in Kansas City," Blake told me when we finally spoke. "We’re the only ones touching the consumer, so I encouraged people to find out what the real world thinks. You don’t have to be out on a ledge to relay what the rest of the world is saying. But the truth is the only way out of here."

As for his replacement/s, Blake openly wondered if Doug Belgrad’s recent promotion from Columbia Pictures president to Sony Pictures Entertainment’s Motion Picture Group presidency means he’ll be taking on larger responsibility. (I’ve learned that in a few weeks Belgrad is leading a presentation to the Japanese brass including CEO Kazuo "Kaz" Hirai. "It looks to me like they’re grooming him. He’s good financially and creatively, which is unusual," a source just told me.) Blake conjectured: "Or somebody on the outside. I hope not. I hope it’s some combination of internal people. They’ve got Rory Bruer [distribution] and Dwight Caines [marketing]. You always have to hope and be optimistic. It is difficult when targets keep getting higher. It worked for a long time. When it gets tough, sometimes the luck runs out."

Blake and I had an unusually close professional relationship after jeff blake 3years and years of emailing one another on most days and every weekend to talk box office. "I always was trying to do my best and not be a fucking liar. You were tough, and you still are tough. I don’t even try to snow you. I gave you at least as much truth as I could tell you and not get myself killed," he explained to me. Only on a few occasions did I ever hear him complain abut his job. Once, about being sleep-deprived from staying up late every weekend night and early every weekend morning to follow the grosses. Another time, when tracking started to become meaningless. And a third time when Lynton and Pascal came after him during Sony’s lousy Summer 2013.

"Last summer was no damn good," Blake recalled.

Looking back at when the Sony saga started, I date it to last summer and an unusual confluence of bad choices, bad timing and bad marketing. First, unfortunately, came After Earth on May 31st. Even the studio’s own tracking indicated that the Will Smith/Jaden Smith space actioner was going to fail. Execs thought its domestic cume would likely end up in the mid to high $90sM. It made only to $60M. AE_posterInternational was stronger but nothing like Will’s other big budget pics which have averaged $600M in global grosses. After Earth‘s problem was that its net cost was $149M ($170M budget, less $21M in production benefits) and Will received not just his full salary but also 20% first dollar gross participation. Some complained about the marketing. ("They paid Smith full freight. Yet why they didn’t put his name in big letters at the top of the billboards or have him smiling in the trailers is mystifying," one source told me at the time.) But people were clearly turned off by After Earth not only as a Jaden Smith pic, but as an expensive vanity project Will Smith pushed through for his son that simply didn’t look like any fun. Since this wasn’t a Will Smith picture, what was there left to market? Certainly not the pic’s director M Night Shyamalan, whom Smith had handpicked. Not only was the pic a conceptual failure, it lost a lot of money. Blake’s marketing prowess couldn’t overcome this meltdown, which Pascal belatedly admitted she had put into production simply because Will had made billions for the studio and she felt she just couldn’t say no to its most successful film partner.

At the time, Third Point hedge fund master of the universe Dan Loeb was destabilizing the Sony studio with his complaints as a major investor in the parent company. First, the After Earth failure played into his hands, and then the White House Down disaster on July 28th. WHD_posterThat pic’s marketing was uninspired, first with action-oriented trailers and then ones making it look like a buddy action comedy. Toughest of all, though, was that it followed the very similar Olympus Has Fallen. Also, Channing Tatum’s most proven audience is female and this was an actioner. Its net negative cost plus P&A came to $280M, and I’m told it lost as much as $90M.

The very next day after White House Down‘s Friday’s release, Loeb got nasty in a letter to his investors. “We were surprised that after Entertainment’s highly touted big budget summer releases — After Earth and White House Down — bombed spectacularly at the box office, Sony CEO Kazuo Hirai, speaking at the Allen & Co Sun Valley conferences a few weeks ago, brushed off these failures saying: ‘I don’t worry about the Entertainment business, it’s doing just fine’”. Calling the films “2013′s versions of Waterworld and Ishtar,” Loeb wrote it was “perplexing” that Hirai gave “free passes” to Lynton and Pascal whom he called “the executives responsible for these debacles.”

I learned that immediately after that Loeb letter, Sony Pictures actually phoned Universal to find out what Waterworld‘s red ink had been (only to be told that Waterworld broke even) and checked internally to see how much Ishtar had lost, and provided the info to their board. The studio considered hitting back publicly at Loeb and had a report written denouncing his claims. "A little reactive and sensitive?" a source told me at the time. "That’s Amy. This has been very tough, and she is a nervous personality. Wonderfully creative but very excitable. Michael was always very calm. But he started to get downright angry when Loeb started complaining."

I learned that, in reaction to Loeb, Sony Pictures had a major meeting the week before July 4th. Lynton, Pascal, Belgrad, the CFO, and three other execs attended. Blake was not there. Sources told me at the time Lynton led the meeting where a revised greenlight strategy was outlined and agreed upon.

The greenlight criteria was to become more stringent: that the numbers would drive everything, but also that there had to be a passionate belief in the project’s success from multiple execs, and that they must know the audience they’re targeting before they commit. Plus the studio now intended to view the North American market as a territory and make pictures aimed at the international audiences. That made sense: overseas theatrical box office was growing at a sustained rate and then accounted for 69% of global box office. Multiplexes were being built worldwide. New middle classes were emerging throughout the world and showing interest in movies. New markets in Asia, Russia, the Middle East, and Latin America were all growing. The MPAA reported that box office in China had grown 36% alone.

The Sony Pictures executives further pledged that third party participation would be reduced, first dollar gross deals would be the exception, and more cash break even deals would be the norm for talent. They also agreed that there was no more reason to spend the type of money they’d previously spent on pics such as The Amazing Spider-Man, Men in Black 3, etc. So budgets on franchises would no longer be gigantic and P&A expenditures should be approximately 10% less going forward.

Also discussed was that the studio needed to build more franchises and have more sequels and develop more brands, and these should be the key to the slate going forward. I’m told that the feeling after the meeting was, in the words of one source, "positive. I think it was smart and productive for them. I liked their plan going forward."

I soon learned why Blake was not invited. Because more then one top exec inside Sony was telling people they thought it was likely that Jeff Blake would be let go. That’s when I first realized the studio was nearly ready to unfairly fire Blake. Despite the fact that he had an unparalled reputation and record of excellence in Hollywood where his peers considered him a ‘god-like’ and ‘very cool" exec completely in control of his domain and staff.

But Pascal was battling for her own job that June – literally hanging by her fingernails – as Loeb kept bitch-slapping the studio’s leadership. Even Lynton was contemplating forcing out Pascal to save his own skin. "Michael was the co-chairman when all the pictures were greenlit, so he can’t completely back away from the slate," a source explained to me at the time. Lynton and Pascal have "always had a culture clash. Michael is empirically driven, Amy creatively. He has always wanted her to understand the numbers and she has always felt that creative decisions should overrule financial decisions. The disharmony is not personal: it is business and based on the results. To her credit, Amy has learned more about the numbers recently. It wouldn’t surprise me if Amy got fired if the rest of the summer doesn’t perform. But if the next three pics work this summer, then I think she gets more time."

Pascal was asking people that July if they’d been told she was being replaced. She’d heard 3 names: Matt Tolmach, Jeff Robinov, Neil Moritz.

When I told Pascal that I planned to write about Sony Pictures right around this time, she completely freaked out. The summer before she’d screamed at me for posting that 2012′s The Amazing Spider-Man reboot had disappointed at the box office – even though it had. In May 2013, she kept insisting to me that After Earth would do fine – until the day it was released and clearly a domestic disaster. Only then did she start talking candidly.

That mid-July, I point-blank asked Pascal whether Blake would be fired, and she told me she didn’t know. Immediately, she sought to use Blake’s health as the reason he should go, telling me it was time "for Jeff to take care of himself". (She repeated those exact same words to me earlier this month.)

I told her how I felt and what I would do: that if she dared to touch a hair on Blake’s head, I would post what I really thought. That she should be fired, and moreover that the studio was blaming marketing when she should be falling on her own sword instead for making bad movies. I said it would be a miracle if Blake was able to get any filmgoers to buy tickets for the dreck produced by Sony that summer. And I told her that I knew about the meeting where Sony Pictures decided to change its film focus because of Loeb’s outside pressure.

Pascal lied to me and claimed that meeting never took place to get me not to write the Sony story. (But the meeting did take place – and was confirmed in a letter to Loeb a month later by Sony Corp chief Kazuo Hirai.)

I loathe those calls I sometimes have to make telling Hollywood bigwigs they’re in danger of getting axed. To my surprise, Blake verbally shrugged it off except to say "Water rising here". But he also asked for a favor, something he’d never done in all the years I’d known him: to "take a beat" before writing about the studio and him at least until after Elysium opened on August 9th. Rightly or wrongly, I agreed.

Pascal at the same time turned to Blake (of all people, but because she knew we were close) to convince me to include in my Sony piece that, even though some pics were failing at the box office, the summer would end profitably. I told Blake how I didn’t think that was true and wasn’t going to write it.

Then Smurfs 2 opened on July 31st and bombed domestically. Even Disney’s toon Planes had been out-tracking the Sony sequel, causing the Sony brass to sweat. smurfs2_posterThe pic shocked by opening to merely half the U.S./Canadian grosses of the first. ("But even the $30M we expected would be disappointing, and the outside perception would be very bad," a source wrote to me at the time.) The studio blamed too many PG films at the multiplex but the real story is that critics panned it because it stunk. Even the foreign cume was blah at first. The negative cost for Smurfs 2 was $125M ($146M less production benefits of $21M). The disappointment was sure to put more pressure on the studio from cantankerous investor Loeb. Plus, it was Lynton’s baby: he’d taken the first Smurfs out of turnaround from Paramount only to have it catch lightning in a bottle and gross $563M worldwide. Smurfs 3 was already scheduled. My sources said the sequel had to make greater than $300M worldwide to show a small profit. It did, thanks to overseas, but grossed nothing like the original.

As a source told me at the time, "when you have a Will Smith pic, a Roland Emmerich pic, and two sequels in your summer, you should make big money." And Sony wasn’t. On the other hand, it’s a cyclical business, as everyone except Loeb seemed to know.

In those first days of August, a source emailed me to say, "I think Sony is going to fire Jeff. I also think Michael could fire Amy. I don’t know either for a fact." The question was whether Lynton, who was on his way to Tokyo, had read the tea leaves correctly about what big Sony wanted in terms of keeping management stability vs making changes. As for Lynton keeping his job, the source told me, "I think Michael has strong support within the board."

Then Sony Pictures decided to fight back against Loeb by deciding the best defense against him was offense. Lynton and Pascal got behind George Clooney, who had Monuments Men with the studio later in the year (and which didn’t break even), to go public telling Loeb to eff off. Parent Sony also rebuffed Loeb’s proposal urging it to spin off a minority stake in its movie, TV and music entertainment assets. Loeb pals told me privately he was uncomfortable attracting so much bad press and decided to publicly stop bitching about Sony for a while. (I wrote, "Apparently, The Most Hated Man In Hollywood just wasn’t comfortable being labeled “The Most Dangerous Man To Our Industry” by George Clooney for all the world to read." And I congratulated Hirai for not panicking or pressuring top executives to leave just to appease Loeb.)

For now Blake was safe even though August releases Elysium and then Mortal Instruments both disappointed at the box office. This Is The End made money. ("It’s a nice piece of business but didn’t play overseas.") Yet someone’s head still had to roll after the summer flops if marketing was going to be blamed. Instead of Blake, Marc Weinstock who was president of worldwide theatrical marketing at Sony Pictures was shockingly ousted that September without any warning. "That one I never understood," an insider told me. "But Michael and Amy wanted it done. They claimed some of the team didn’t like him." Blake had to fire him. "I hated to do it. I thought he was a talented young guy." By the end of 2013, Weinstock had landed at 20th Century Fox as president of domestic film marketing.

I never wrote that Sony piece because I became consumed by employment problems with my then boss. All I can say, in summary, is that what people in Hollywood will do to save their own skins never surprises me anymore.

(Part Two coming soon.)

WGAW Final Board Candidates

The Writers Guild of America, West has announced the final slate of candidates for the 2014 WGAW Board of Directors election.

There are 18 candidates nominated to run for eight open seats on the WGAW’s WGAW-LogoBoard of Directors as follows: Chris Derrick, Shawn Ryan, Cynthia Riddle, Peter Lefcourt, Chip Johannessen (inc.), Shernold Edwards, Peter Murrieta, Scott Alexander (inc.), Doug Atchison, Michael Oates Palmer (inc.), Stan Chervin, Jonathan Fernandez, Katherine Fugate (inc.), Courtney Ellinger, Mark Amato, Aaron Mendelsohn, Aaron Fullerton, Marjorie David (inc.). (Petition candidate Mark Amato was added to the initial candidate roster previously announced on 6/20.)*

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The Power & Money & Glitter

Get ready, Hollywood, for more than just snarled traffic. Because once again  Washington DC pols are coming here with their hands permanently outstretched for your coin. On Wednesday, President Obama is obama hollywood star_thumb[1]making his 16th SoCal money plea and attends a Democratic National Committee fundraiser at the Hancock Park home of TV producer Shonda Rhimes. Tickets begin at $1,000,  with the price rising to $10,000 to attend the reception and to have a photo taken with Obama. It climbs to $32,400 — the maximum allowable contribution to a national party committee in a calendar year — to co-host the event and to attend a dinner with Obama as well. On Thursday, Obama is scheduled to attend a roundtable discussion with about 30 people at the Los Angeles home of Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino with tickets reportedly costing $32,400 each. The money raised at both events will help U.S. House and Senate Democratic candidates in the midterm elections this November. The big bucks also pay off.  Jeffrey Katzenberg, who bundled at least $10M for Obama’s election and reelection during the 2008 and 2012 campaigns, is receiving the National Medal Of Arts in the East Room of the White House on July 28th. He’s the first Hollywood non-filmmaker executive to receive the honor.

WGA’s “Call To Arms” Against Murdoch-Time Warner Merger

The leadership of the Writers Guild West just sent this email to members about the Rupert Murdoch bid for Time Warner. For background, read my Here We Go Again: How Rupert Murdoch/Time Warner Merger Would Fuck You In Hollywood):

From The New York Times: $80B Offer From Rupert Murdoch Puts Time-Warner In Play

WGAW-LogoIf this headline scares you – and it should – then consider this a call to arms.

As writers, we face a landscape today that the founders of our Guild would hardly recognize. For decades, there were dozens of significant buyers in television and movies.

Then Federal limits on mergers disappeared. FCC regulations requiring independent production in television were repealed. And the result was industry-wide consolidation, networks and studios combining, and independent production disappearing.

Fewer movies being made. Fewer development deals. Smaller TV staffs. And lower quotes… because the industry was suddenly in the hands of only six – six! – conglomerates.

And the Writers Guild, without a voice in Washington to protest, was unable to save the business from strangling itself.

Now, those six conglomerates are threatening to swallow one another. Think of that. Between them, Fox and Time-Warner would control 40% of the industry’s writing jobs. What happens if more consolidation follows? What happens if one mega-company ends up devouring them all? The idea is almost too frightening to contemplate. But it’s also too possible to ignore.

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Advisory: Thank You, Readers

NikkiFinke.com has been live for more than one month, and I want to thank all the multi-millions of readers who have dropped by to check it out so far. Please keep Thank You1sending me tips and signing up for my email alerts. The site also has incorporated the improvements which you’ve suggested. My goal is to provide Hollywood news, analysis and commentary not done by the trades, and stimulate honest discussions in the comments section. I’m still spending a lot of my time on the continuing arbitration case with Jay Penske. Hopefully, you can cut me slack in the meantime knowing that, come September, I’ll post more content more regularly. The best is yet to come.

CBS Films’ Shake-Up At Top

UPDATED… EXCLUSIVE: I just found out that Terry Press has taken over as President of CBS Films solo. Sources tell me that Wolfgang Hammer was quietly moved out of his co-president’s job with her a few weeks ago with no announcement. But tonight, after I cbs films newstarted asking questions about him, Hammer’s name disappeared from the CBS Films website and now only Press’ name is listed as President. I’m told that Hammer three weeks ago "transitioned into a CBS Executivecounsulting role at CBS corporation working on some digital content ideas for other parts of the company. So Terry is going to assume the sole presidency of the division and actually has." For days now Hammer’s email had a cryptic message following a tragedy in his family. I’ve been aware of friction between Press and Hammer over their differing ideas on how to run the company ever since Press and Hammer were named co-presidents in April 2012 to fill the vacancy left by former president Amy Baer who left the post in September 2011. From that moment on, I knew it was just a matter of time and experience before Press would be running the studio alone.

I also learned that last week 5 staffers were laid off as a "regrouping" by Press, including the SVP of Distribution Bob Kaplowitz. "He was planning to retire and this way he got a big chunk of stock and money," a source tells me. Insiders deny employee fears that more layoffs are to come and will be staggered ("so as not to cause a story because they’re opening a movie in August," as a source told me). That Michael Dowse-directed film stars Daniel Radcliffe in the romantic comedy What If set for an August 1st release. "I don’t think 5 people constitutes a large wave," an insider insists. Then again CBS Films, started in 2007, is small to begin with. Meanwhile CBS Inc turned in record 2014 Q1 profits.

Having two executives serve as co-presidents was unusual for such a small film studio. wolfgang hammerHammer previously held the COO title and focused on acquisitions. Press, formerly the head of marketing for DreamWorks, had been consulting for CBS Films since 2010 while running her own firm 7570 Marketing. She impressed CBS Inc chief Les Moonves so that he had her overseeing creative, distribution, marketing and physical production for CBS Films until the latest promotion.

2ND UPDATE: The Hollywood Reporter was 1 1/2 hours later posting 2 sentences about my CBS Films shake-up scoop – with no credit to me.

Time-Warner Plays Defense

According to SEC filings, Time Warner today amended its corporate bylaws effective immediately to remove a provision that allowed shareholders to call a special board meeting. The defensive and murdoch3 bewkes time warnertemporary and also unusual move is against its own shareholders who might be supportive of Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox $80B bid for Time Warner. It’s not a poison pill defense. Specifically, the measure prevents a fraction of TW shareholders, 15%, from forcing a vote on 21st Century Fox’s offer. Time Warner’s management believes the move will prevent a hostile takeover, while allowing it more time to make its case that it has a plan to unlock shareholder value and grow as an independent company, according to an insider quoted by The New York Times. Time Warner sees Murdoch’s first bid as too low amid reports he may go as high as $100/share to win it. (PREVIOUS: Here We Go Again: How Rupert Murdoch/Time Warner Merger Would Fuck You In Hollywood.)

Comic-Con’s Most Buzzed TV?

300.comic.con.logo.052708MA18849441-0001Studio System News just listed its 9 most buzzed about TV panels at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con: Showtime’s Penny Dreadful, AMC’s The Walking Dead, HBO’s Game Of Thrones,  Adult Swim’s Mike Tyson’s Mysteries, Fox’s Bob’s Burgers, CW’s Arrow, Fox’s Family Guy (talking about the impending Simpsons crossover episode), Warner Bros Television & DC Entertainment (discussing CW’s The Flash, NBC’s Constantine, CW’s Arrow, Fox’s Gotham), FX’s The Strain (featuring producer Guillermo del Toro). Yes or no?

Woody Allen Does First Podcast

Magic In Moonlight2MTV’s Josh Horowitz just gave me exclusively his sit-down with Woody Allen for what is touted as the filmmaker’s first podcast interview* - and at the end Woody confesses he doesn’t know what a podcast is. Allen’s latest movie Magic In The Moonlight from Sony Pictures Classics opens this Friday. (*Andy Marx tells me he did the first podcast interview with Woody in 2005 for Match Point.)

Wkd Box Office: #1 ‘Apes’ Holds, #2 ‘Purge’ Surges, #3 ‘Planes’ So-So , #4 ‘Sex Tape’ Tanks

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MONDAY 9 AM, 7TH UPDATE: This is getting serious: overall moviegoing is down -23% this weekend BOupdated200compared to last year. That’s more than the average -19% for Summer 2014′s first half. Final film order this weekend depended on how much audiences have missed a high-profile miscreant horror movie in the marketplace despite meh reviews, or wanted a great kiddie toon appealing to younger children, or yet another original R-rated pic billed as a sex comedy which critics wished for blindness before calling its not-funny-enough smutty premise "flaccid".

1. Pushed down to #2 on Friday, holdover Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes from 20th Century Fox and Chernin Entertainment bounced back to #1 on Saturday and for the weekend. Sequel made $10.4 Friday and $14.8M Saturday. With $11.1M Sunday, it should add $36.2M this weekend – an excellent hold of -51% – from 3,969 theaters for a new cume of $139.2M.

2. Universal/Blumhouse Production’s sequel The Purge: Anarchy , releasing into 2,806 theaters, took a big late night Friday jump to put it up to $13.0M Friday for #1. But that wasn’t enough to stay #1 this weekend with $9.5M Saturday and $7.3M Sunday for an expected $29.8M. Audiences gave pic a ‘B’ Cinemascore which didn’t help or hurt word of mouth. But it couldn’t close in on the $34M opening weekend which the micro-budgeted ($3M) sleeper original hauled in last summer. So-so reviews hurt this new one’s grosses, and exit polling showed audiences were 52% female/48% male, 61% under 25/39% age 25 and older, and 36% Hispanic, 29% Caucasian, 21% African American, 6% Asian, and 8% other. Sequel was made for only $9M and started with $2.6M in late shows on Thursday from 2,194 theaters which is included in Friday’s total. These genre movies tend to be frontloaded: Fandango reported that Purge 2‘s pre-sales made it 2014′s #1 horror film so far helped by African American and Hispanic ticket-buyers. James DeMonaco returns as writer-director-producer as does the premise: what happens in a dystopian future on the one night of the year when crime is legal. This time the audience is outside on the streets during the annual Purge. The original was the first movie in Universal’s overall deal with Paranormal Activity franchise producer Jason Blum. One reason for the rush to see the sequel was the huge social media response to the first’s creative and digital marketing campaign. Frank Grillo, Zach Gilford, Kiele Sanchez, Michael K. Williams, Carmen Ejogo and Zoe Soul star. Blumhouse’s Jason Blum, Sébastien Lemercie, and Platinum Dunes’ Michael Bay produce. Pic was originally slated for release June 20 but studio was smart to delay. Purge 2 opens day-and-date in 14 territories.

3. Audiences gave Disney’s adventure-comedy sequel Planes: Fire & Rescue a rare ‘A’ Cinemascore. Toon opened #3 with less than the original ($22.2M) for $6.3M Friday and $6.5M Saturday and an estimated $4.5M Sunday. So that’s a projected $17.4M weekend at 3,826 theaters (with more than half in 3D). Budget was $50M. Besides the usual Disney synergy, trailers appeared on The Lego Movie, Mr. Peabody & Sherman, Muppets Most Wanted, Rio 2, Disneynature’s Bears, and How To Train Your Dragon 2, Earth To Echo and more. Planes 2 was the centerpiece of an Ad Council and National Forest Service campaign to prevent wildfires and celebrate the 70th anniversary of Smokey the Bear. Toon opens day and date in 23 total markets for 40% of international footprint. Voice cast included Dane Cook, Ed Harris, Julie Bowen, Hal Holbrook, Brad Garrett, Teri Hatcher, Stacy Keach, and Cedric The Entertainer. Director was Bobs Gannaway and producer Ferrell Barron.

4. Sony/Columbia Pictures was hoping that its non-sequel Sex Tape could be another R-rated comedic hit from Bad Teacher director Jake Kasdan reteamed with Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel. But the new pic’s ‘C+’ Cinemascore and horrible reviews (only 19% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes) ensured it would tank from the get-go. It placed only #4 with $5.6M Friday and $5.2M Saturday and an estimated $3.6M Sunday for just $14.5M this weekend from 3,060 theaters. So that’s less than half Bad Teacher‘s $31.6M FSS start. Sad when these stars, who both promo-ed the hell out of the movie, can’t move the needle past $20M. Exit polling showed audiences were 47% male/53% female with 48% under age 30. Studio was hoping for a bigger adult Saturday night bump to get the domestic total higher. "We need a great multiple and great international performance, both of which are possible," a Sony exec told me. I think technology-obsessed laughers aren’t funny. (The Internship at Google flopped. And this new one has an annoying overload of Apple products.) Premise wasn’t a good date movie: a couple make a video of themselves trying out every position in The Joy Of Sex in one marathon three-hour session only to lose it in the Cloud. But the script forgot the raunch. One critic compared its "naughty factor to an old Disney movie", while another complained, "Sex is treated first as brainless imperative, then as acrobatic duty, then as desperate consequence. It’s never sexy in any way." (And to think Segel needlessly trimmed down for fear audiences would laugh at his "fat ass".) Sex Tape made $1.1M in 2,457 theaters opening at 7PM Thursday and included in Friday’s dismal total. Produced by Todd Black, Jason Blumenthal, and Steve Tisch. Screenplay by Kate Angelo and Jason Segel & Nicholas Stoller.

The weekend’s film order:

1. Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes (Fox) Week 2 [Runs 3969] PG13
Friday $10.3M, Saturday $14.8M, Sunday $11.1M, Weekend $36.2M (-50%), Cume $139.2M

2. The Purge: Anarchy (Universal) NEW [Runs 2806] R
Friday $13.0M, Saturday $9.5M, Sunday $7.3M, Weekend $29.8M

3. Planes: Fire And Rescue (Disney) NEW [Runs 3826] PG
Friday $6.3M, Saturday $6.5M, Sunday $4.5M, Weekend $17.4M

4. Sex Tape (Columbia/Sony) NEW [Runs 3062] R
Friday $5.6M, Saturday $5.2M, Sunday $3.6M, Weekend $14.5M

5. Transformers: Age Of Extinction (Paramount) Week 4 [Runs 3224] PG13
Friday $2.7M, Saturday $4.0M, Sunday $2.9M, Weekend $9.8M, Cume $227.0M

Showtime’s ‘Homeland’ Teaser

Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) returns for Season 4 on October 5th. According to details released by the producers today, the series intros a half dozen new characters including Life Of Pi’s Suraj Sharma whom Carrie is recruiting. Back are Peter Quinn (played by Rupert Friend) and Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin) but not Carrie’s father, played by James Rebhorn who passed away in March:

Auteur Filmmakers’ Loss Is Wes Anderson-Jason Reitman’s Gain

UPDATED: I hear there won’t be any formal announcement. And details are still sketchy. But sources tell me that established financier and producer of auteur-driven films Indian Paintbrush Productions is informing the agencies that it’s changing focus: it will only make Wes Anderson and Jason Reitman movies from now on and is stopping all other cinema development for now. Multi-billionaire businessman indianpaintbrushSteven Rales, who is one of the America’s richest men, started the Santa Monica-based Indian Paintbrush in 2006 with a mandate to aggressively acquire filmmaker-driven properties on the ground floor and either fully finance or co-finance them with studios who want  Oscar-bait elite pics. Indian Paintbrush already has funded Anderson’s 2007 The Darjeeling Limited, 2009 Fantastic Mr. Fox, 2012 Moonrise Kingdom and most recently this year’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, all of which Anderson co-wrote, directed and produced. "It’s not like the other movies it’s been producing have made any money," a source just told me by way of explanation. Budapest in particular has been very profitable with $168M worldwide gross. As for Reitman, the company co-financed 2011′s Jeff, Who Lives At Home, which Reitman produced, and 2013′s Labor Day which Reitman wrote, directed and produced and grossed only $19.2M worldwide. Whereas Reitman’s 2007 Juno has taken in $231.4M globally and 2009 Up In The Air $168.8M. The company already had an overhead deal with Reitman’s Right of Way banner and was footing Anderson’s expenses, too. Indian Paintbrush’s change in direction follows Mark Roybal’s departure as president last year to become 20th Century Fox’s EVP of production. Apparently losing out will be auteurs previously financed by the company like Drake Doremus (2011 Like Crazy) and Lorene Scafaria (2012 Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World). 

AMPAS Governors Vote Results

The Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences announced today that 5 first-time governors have been elected, 8 incumbents have been reelected, and 4 previous governors are returning to the Board. The first-time governors are Kate Amend, academy logosmallDocumentary Branch; Daniel R. Fellman, Executives Branch; Albert Berger, Producers Branch; Bob Rogers, Short Films and Feature Animation Branch; and Mark Mangini, Sound Branch. The reelected governors are Annette Bening, Actors Branch; Lora Kennedy, Casting Directors Branch; Jeffrey Kurland, Costume Designers Branch; Rick Carter, Designers Branch; Michael Tronick, Film Editors Branch; Kathryn Blondell, Makeup Artists and Hairstylists Branch; Cheryl Boone Isaacs, Public Relations Branch; and Phil Robinson, Writers Branch. Returning to the Board after a hiatus are governors Caleb Deschanel, Cinematographers Branch; Edward Zwick, Directors Branch; Charles Bernstein, Music Branch; and Bill Taylor, Visual Effects Branch. The Academy’s 17 branches are each represented by 3 governors, who can serve up to 3 consecutive three-year terms. (Previous: Running For AMPAS Governors.)

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Here We Go Again: How Rupert Murdoch/Time Warner Merger Would Fuck You In Hollywood

"Rupert Murdoch moves more swiftly than most rivals, takes bigger risks, and never gives up." The same year that was written about him, in 1995, he ordered his bankers and lawyers to examine a takeover attempt of Time Warner, then valued at $40 billion pre-AOL fiasco. Murdoch didn’t like that Time Warner was joining with Turner Broadcasting because it blocked some of his expansionist plans. Now it’s deja vu all over again. media sharkHollywood woke up today to big news about the first-in-a-while possible Big Media mega-merger. The New York Times first reported, subsequently confirmed by both sides, that Murdoch offered $80 billion to purchase Time Warner for his 21st Century Fox. The price, $85/share in a combination of non-voting stock and cash, was too low for Time Warner’s Jeff Bewkes and his board to accept on the spot so they politely declined. That’s now prompted speculation that Murdoch can and might pay over $100/share and won’t stop until Time Warner is his.

Such media consolidations shocked us in the nineties and the naughts but now they elicit little more than a shrug. The only surprise is that this deal didn’t involve Google or Apple or Amazon but instead two large cap content conglomerates. Already talking heads on Wall Street are nodding approvingly of Murdoch’s offer for Time Warner while they discussed when Time Warner would be bought, not if, and what other content companies might be in play. That list now includes Discovery, AMC, Scripps Network, even the studios Viacom/Paramount/CBS and Sony and Lionsgate and Starz. Almost every media company’s stock price except Murdoch’s jumped on the news.

What wasn’t discussed is how media consolidations like this hurt Hollywood and its content providers. Because it stinks. In sum, the Street sees scale as only helping the ‘Content Is King’ theory. But the people who actually provide that content are peons who become prisoners of these deals.

For the past 25 years I’ve written story after story warning about the downsides of Big Media mergers. But it’s been like pissing in the wind. Neither the FCC nor the FTC nor the DOJ no matter who’s been in the White House have stopped them because of anti-trust or anti-access concerns. Big media mergersPut 21st Century Fox and Time Warner together, and they make up 25%-to-30% of the market share for movies being made. The Fox and Warner Brothers TV studios are the #1 and #2 film and TV studios in the entire industry. Merging their significant distribution infrastructures — for international box office, home video distribution, and/or digital distribution — would create both revenue and cost synergies for their outsized businesses. That’s good for the companies. Merge their movie and TV production studios who are now bitter rivals looking to sign the best talent, and suddenly directors and writers and actors and showrunners can’t play off the two companies against each other for bigger deals. That’s bad for you.

Combine their international cable footprints and its uber-huge with Fox revenue 44% of total and strong in Europe while TW 36% and well penetrated in Latin America. Murdoch’s resultant international cable scale would create synergies on ad sales, affiliate fees, and pay-TV penetration, according to the analysts. That’s good for the companies.

What this also means is that, just as a time when a wealth of new buyers like Goggle, Hulu, Amazon, YouTube, Yahoo and Netflix for scripted professional TV programming have appeared, it’s entirely possibly that 2 of the biggest traditional buyers will become one combined entity to better control over how content is sold to these new online players. That’s bad for you. A merged Fox/Time Warner company would negotiate digital rights more effectively and create an even more formidable rival to these still fledgling programmers and distributors. That’s good for the companies.

Today media analysts couldn’t wait to explain that Murdoch needs the more clout that Time Warner could provide to press for more favorable terms from the cable and telecommunications industries. media-consolidation2True, those octopus arms are only getting longer with their own pending mergers of Comcast/Time Warner Cable and AT&T/DirecTV. So having more cable networks would give traditional Big Media more negotiating leverage with these mega-distributors so they can receive dual revenue streams from advertising as well as retransmission fees, not to mention take "billions of dollars of synergies". Investment bankers are putting pressure on media companies to consider mergers and partnerships to gain scale to push back. Of course, Wall Street wants more Big Media consolidation in order to pocket big bucks fees from the deals.

Take Goldman Sachs, which is handling Murdoch’s takeover offer. It just beat profit expectations last quarter because revenues from investment banking were up 15% (outweighing a 10% drop in its traditional powerhouse of trading bonds, currencies and commodities). And Goldman already has set aside nearly $4B out of the quarter’ revenues to pay annual bonuses for its top executives at the end of 2014.

The rich get richer. Goldman Sachs doesn’t care what happens to 21st Century Fox or Time Warner employees when the redundancy studies are made and the job layoffs are started. Goldman Sachs also won’t be around when the next billions of dollars of a goodwill writedown takes place after another recession hits and neither corporation will be worth what it is now at the top of the stock market. (Only Time, spun off by Time Warner, noted that Murdoch has a track record of making bids that all coincide with market peaks. Shortly after he makes these deals, stocks go splat.)

For Time Warner, the price may simply still be too low, even with a 20% control premium, and the non-voting stock offer unacceptable. (The separate voting stock is how Murdoch and his family keep control.) That prompted analysts today to speculate that Time Warner may require a much higher percentage of cash, if not all cash, from Murdoch. Meanwhile, sounding quite arrogant, Time Warner is saying in response that its existing business plan is superior to any proposal no matter how “determined” Murdoch is to buy TWX. Chairman Jeff Bewkes even sent a short recorded video of himself to his employees today explaining why Murdoch’s offer was rebuffed.

But could this offer, or any offer, have been avoided by Time Warner? Of course. By stripping away asset after asset – first AOL, then Time Warner Cable, finally Time Inc, the once biggest global media conglomerate is now just Warner Bros, HBO and the Turner Networks. That, in turn, made Time Warner more attractive but also more vulnerable as a takeover target.

And why wasn’t chairman Jeff Bewkes using the resulting cash from the cable sale to acquire what even Gordy Crawford had said were rare buying opportunities in its core entertainment arena? So while Disney’s Bob Iger was buying Pixar and Marvel and LucasFilm to build Mouse House value, Bewkes was sitting on his hands during the recent recession. There were repeated stock buybacks, a move which I consider to be the corporate equivalent of burning dollar bills.

Bewkes also has resisted repeated calls to spin off extremely lucrative HBO. "The inherent value of HBO’s business probably exceeds the 8x-10x EV/ EBITDA multiples ascribed to HBO by the Street in TWX’s sum-of-the-parts models (especially if you index HBO to Netflix valuations)," wrote Nomura media analysts Anthony DiClemente and Benjamin Black about the proposed merger today. "And even on a standalone basis, HBO is a desirable asset that is well positioned for a digital media future."

Oh, and let’s not forget the platinum parachute which Bewkes’ compensation contract will call for if Time Warner gets bought and/or he gets canned.

Murdoch has always had an unquenchable appetite for acquiring companies and growing bigger. It led his News Corp to the precipice of bankruptcy in 1990. But that was then and this is now. So he’ll be seen as an acquirer in one way or another even if Time Warner becomes out of reach. But Murdoch knows this offer gives him scale in sports and cable networks to bolster the negotiating power of a content provider like his vis a vis Fox News, F/X, and the Fox regional sports networks alongside TNT, TBS, and others. (One analyst sees 10+% affiliate rate increases assured for the next 5 years.) Sports rights ownership of Time Warner would help with launches of Fox Sports cable networks along with Turner’s rights to NBA, NCAA basketball, and the PGA on Fox Sports 1 (FS1), which itself has strengths in other sports including MLB, NASCAR, and USGA. A combined portfolio of sports could better challenge ESPN and keep NBC’s growing sports coverage at bay.

Back in 1983, some 90% of the U.S. media was controlled by 50 companies. I thought Hollywood had it bad enough when studios started gobbling up networks, and cable companies started taking over studios and networks. Now 90% of media is controlled by 5 companies – Comcast, Viacom, CBS, Walt Disney, Time Warner and 21st Century Fox. The Nation used to complain about "The National Entertainment State" and the journalistic, political and cultural questions raised by the ongoing concentration of media power in so few hands. Nowadays, journalism doesn’t matter because it’s barely in existence. Note how quickly Murdoch said he would toss aside CNN. (No journalism on that so-called cable news channel anymore: just watered-down partisan political polemics, reruns of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknowns, and endless searches for that missing Malaysian plane.) I now see where Big Media will soon consist of Disney and Comcast and 21st Century Fox. Analysts today called Murdoch’s Time Warner offer "basically the first salvo in a wave of media consolidation." You’re fucked.

Sarah Palin Helps Cast The View – Tammy Bruce As ‘Anti-Rosie’?

The best way on TV to shut up a loudmouth is with another loudmouth.  I’ve learned that Tea Party advocate Tammy Bruce – the outspoken nationally syndicated radio show host, author, and Fox News talking head – is being considered for a hosting slot on The View as the so-called "anti-Rosie". What makes this especially interesting is that Bruce reportedly BrucePalinwas suggested to the show by Sarah Palin. "I don’t think Sarah Palin is being considered to be a panelist on the show. I think she’s working behind the scenes to help them cast the conservative," an insider tells me. "Tammy and Palin are close friends, and I think they are hot on Tammy because of Palin. They want the show to be politically combative, and Tammy would certainly be the anti-Rosie in every possible way."

Bruce’s website describes her as a "gay, pro-choice, gun-owning, pro-death penalty Tea Party Independent conservative". I’m told Bruce just had a meeting with ABC about potentially joining the show. She has been a talking head at Fox News for over a decade now "but she was surprised that ABC had interest in her for The View, considering she’s only been booked on the show as a guest once. And she doesn’t have an agent that was pushing her. They literally just called out of the blue. She says the meeting went well."

Right before last week’s announcement that liberal Rosie O’Donnell was re-joining The View, media outlets reported that Palin was "dropping hints" that she might want to be a panelist. Asked by The Hollywood Reporter if she had any interest in doing a political talk show, Palin replied, "I hear everyone recently got canned from The View [so] maybe a show like that needs a punch of reality and a voice of reason from America’s heartland to knock some humble sense into their scripts. You know, someone willing to go rogue." But Palin did not go so far as to suggest herself.

From 1990 for 7 years, Bruce served as president of the Los Angeles chapter of the National Organization for Women and two years on NOW’s board of directors, but later criticized the group in her book. She resigned in 1996 after the NOW Executive Board voted nearly unanimously to censure Bruce for what it claimed were racially insensitive comments during the OJ Simpson murder trial. In 2003, Bruce was appointed to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s California gubernatorial transition team.

Thoraswoman

Marvel: Thor Becomes A Woman (…Or The Ultimate Omnisexual)

marvel disney smallMarvel is constantly surprising its fans in keeping its storylines fresh. Well, today the comics giant didn’t wait for Comic-Con later this month to make a major "thunderous" announcement about Thor, Norse God Of Thunder. Employing its Disney-owned synergy with The View, Marvel used that show to announce that the next person to wield Mjölnir, the mighty hammer of Thor, is going to be a woman. Thor as woman3“It’s a huge day in the Marvel Universe,” the show’s Whoopi Goldberg said. “Thor he messed up, and he’s no longer worthy to hold that damn hammer of his. For the first time in history, that hammer is being held by a woman. That’s right. Thor is a woman!”

Marvel editor Wil Ross said later on the company’s website that Thor as a woman will debut in October: “The inscription on Thor’s hammer reads ‘Whosoever holds this hammer, if HE be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor.’ Well it’s time to update that inscription. And this new Thor isn’t a temporary female substitute – she’s now the one and only Thor, and she is worthy!”

So why is Marvel creating this new female hero? I think several factors are at work. First, rival Warner Bros/DC Comics plans to include Wonder Woman in its upcoming Justice League movie and then spin her off into her own franchise. Second, so-called women’s movies and women action heroes have taken off at the box office. Third, the first two Thor films starring Chris Hemsworth were always marketed to women. Fourth, I heard Hemsworth wasn’t anxious to go back into that arduous diet and training regimen and subsist primarily on egg whites for Thor 3 or The Avengers 3. Fifth, it’s doubtful that Marvel wanted to cough up the big bucks necessary to keep Hemsworth starring as the franchise title character so here’s a cheap way to reboot the series by changing the leading man into a leading woman. Sixth, Thor has become the ultimate omnisexual (cooler than heterosexual, homosexual or metrosexual). Finally, Marvel has simply gone off its rocker.

Marvel called it "an all-new era" for the God of Thunder – "one of the most shocking and exciting changes ever to shake one of the Big Three" characters – in the brand new series written by Jason Aaron with art from Russell Dauterman whose cover #1 is above right.

The new Thor "is the latest in the ever-growing and long list of female-centric titles that continues to invite new readers into the Marvel Universe," Thoraswoman2the company said. "Thor will be the 8th title to feature a lead female protagonist and aims to speak directly to an audience that long was not the target for super hero comic books in America: women and girls."

In the past a few other people have taken Thor’s mantle when he wasn’t able, but only those deemed worthy by the divine hammer. (No one else can even lift it.) But this is the first time in Marvel history that a woman has both the divine hammer and the title. Marvel did release an illustration but didn’t reveal the woman’s identity, presumably keeping that for Comic-Con. Series writer Jason Aaron wanted to be clear that “This is not She-Thor. This is not Lady Thor. This is not Thorita. This is THOR. This is the THOR of the Marvel Universe. But it’s unlike any Thor we’ve ever seen before.” [FYI, there is a "Thor Girl", created by writer Dan Jurgens and artist John Romita Jr, who first appeared in Thor Tears of the Gods Vol. 2 #22 (April 2000) and in the 2011 six-issue limited series Fear Itself: Youth In Revolt.]

Dinesh D’Souza’s ‘America’ Now #7 Political Docu Of All Time

America: Imagine The World Without Her from conservative author Dinesh D’Souza, Academy-award winning producer Gerald R. Molen (Schindler’s List) and director John america-imagine-a-world-without-her-lionsgate Sullivan continues its strong showing in its second week in release. It had the 5th highest per screen average of any film this weekend. Released by Lionsgate in just over 1,100 theaters, America earned an estimated $2.4 million for the weekend for a total $8.2M to pass liberal Michael Moore’s genre-defining Roger & Me and become the 7th highest grossing partisan political documentary of all time. D’Souza has used the controversy around the film as a marketing tool, obtaining headlines when the retail giant Costco briefly pulled all copies of his new book around which the film is based. D’Souza, who in May pleaded guilty to a federal charge of making illegal political campaign donations, also appeared on ABC’s This Week With George Stephanopoulos and MSNBC’s The Ed Show to promote the pic. America has received far worse reviews than his previous 2016: Obama’s America which in 2012 went on to gross $33.4M as the #2 partisan political documentary, behind Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 with $119.1M .

Box Office: ‘Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes’ Opens To Bigger-Than-Expected $104.1M Wkd

Dawn-of-the-Planet-of-the-Apes-posters

SUNDAY AM, 6TH UPDATE: Overall weekend moviegoing was down again (-20%) as Hollywood worries over grosses plunging -19% from last mid-summer’s. Which is why it took on more importance that media are praising an apes movie as classic Western, Godfather-esque, even Shakespearean. Or that this valuable motion-capture 3D franchise was entrusted to a TV co-creator (Felicity) and small horror films director (Cloverfield and Let Me In). That, boys and girls, is how you circumvent sequel mistrust and open a summer tentpole bigger than expected.

1. Twentieth Century Fox-financed and Chernin Entertainment-produced Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes earned an A- Cinemascore from audiences, stellar reviews from critics, and now is overperforming. Friday’s domestic box office targeted $27.7M and Saturday’s $25.5M for what may be a $73M first opening weekend from 3,967 U.S./Canadian theaters. The only question unanswered is how much Sunday’s World Cup soccer final will hurt grosses. Friday’s figure included Thursday’s $4.1M from 10 PM late shows BOupdated200and midnights at 2,750 runs. The Matt Reeves-helmed sci-fi heavy special effects-laden actioner cost a whopping $170M  (almost twice as much as the first) which Fox solely financed, according to the studio. "Great number, great start," a Fox exec says confidently. Opening weekend gross domestic wound up +33% more than the previous Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes which had a $54.8M opening. Exit polling showed the Dawn audience was 58% male/42% female, with 55% aged 25 and up/45% older than 25, including 47% Caucasian, 23% African American, 16% Hispanic, and 14% Asian.

Until Friday afternoon the studio was still trying to lower expectations to $55M-$60M for the first FSS after last weekend’s lousy Independence Holiday results for overall moviegoing and the -19% downturn at midpoint in 2014 summer grosses. Big ticket-seller Fandango reported that Apes was scooping up 70% of all pre-sales, exceeding where the first pic was at this period. Reviews have been stellar with an astonishing (and rare) 91% positive on Rotten Tomatoes. Internationally, pic opens day and date in 28 markets, including Australia, South Korea, Southeast Asia. Like the first film, sequel should make 50% of its global grosses overseas. Opening weekend gross internationally was $31.1M (26 markets but only two majors – Australia and South Korea) for an opening global cume of $104.1M.

So how do you market with any freshness an apes vs humans movie that’s been reimagined 8 times between 1968 and 2014, rebooted 3 times, and this latest franchise installment is a sequel? Hell if I know – except to incorporate Andy Serkis (reprising Caesar) nonstop. (Though I did burst into laughter the first time I saw the long Dawn trailer for no other reason that there were apes, apes, APES everywhere!) Dawn100But Fox had to do it because all these apes are responsible for half a billion dollars in domestic theatrical gross alone. "It’s an Ape World and we are all living in it, that’s for sure," a Fox exec told me tonight. So the studio kicked off the Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes campaign a year ago with a Simian Flu infection of the 2013 San Diego Comic-Con via PSA-type social posts, a virus-awareness micro-site, and sanitary masks + hand sanitizer gel for fans to take home. Other highlights included Fox delivering a sneak preview during the season finale of AMC’s hit show The Walking Dead. And Andy Serkis taking over the @ApesMovies Instagram account for the day during WonderCon. And the film doing a live Google+ Hangout at YouTube Headquarters, a cast Twitter Chat at Twitter Headquarters which ended with the Red Carpet global premiere. Fourth of July social blitz garnered 5x average engagement from millions of fans. Finally, Fox employed Vice Media’s Science and Tech arm to create 3 original short films detailing the 10 years between the two films and the effects of the Simian Flu on society. Plague Inc introduced the Simian Flu into the popular game. Screenplay was by Mark Bomback and Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver, based on characters created by Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver. Producers were Peter Chernin, Dylan Clark, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver. And the cast besides Serkis included Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, and Keri Russell.

2. Transformers: Age Of Extinction (Paramount) Week 3 [3912 runs] PG13
Friday $4.8M, Saturday $6.6M, Weekend $16.5M, Cume $209.0M
International Cume $543.5M, Worldwide Total $752.5M
3. Tammy (Warner Bros) Week 2 [3465 runs] R
Friday $4.0M, Saturday $5.0M, Weekend $12.5M (-42%), Cume $56.9M
4. 22 Jump Street (Columbia/Sony) Week 5 [2811 runs] R
Friday $2.0M, Saturday $2.6M, Weekend $6.7M, Cume $171.9M
5. How To Train Your Dragon 2 (DreamWorks Anim/Fox) Week 5 [2885 runs] PG
Friday $1.7M, Saturday $2.3M, Weekend $5.8M, Cume $152.0M
6. Earth To Echo (Relativity) Week 2 [3230 runs] PG
Friday $1.7M, Saturday $2.1M, Weekend $5.5M (-34%), Cume $24.5M

IFC FILMs’ much ballyhooed Boyhood from Richard Linklater started its run today in 5 NY and LA theaters with a very respectable per screen average of $71,800 for what Boyhoodsmshould be a $359K weekend. The R-rated indie film scored 100% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, which is almost unheard-of, and already is Oscar-buzzed. I’m a sucker for sassy marketing, and pic’s dealmaker/producer John Sloss emailed to influencers a "Time Back Guarantee: That if you are not absolutely thrilled by Boyhood and/or consider it not to be a good use of your time, I will give you that time back by performing any of your customary chores for up to 2 hours and 43 minutes." Pic 12 years in the making already has an awards consultant. And IFC President Jonathan Sehring, who greenlit and supported it, is telling media this is his favorite project of his entire professional career.

SAG-AFTRA Pact Goes To Vote

As expected, the SAG-AFTRA National Board approved 90%-to-10% Saturday the tentative agreement reached with the studios/networks and recommended  it for new-SAG-AFTRAratification. Now the 3-year contract covering motion pictures, scripted prime-time dramatic television and new media production goes to the union’s eligible 165,000 members for a pro forma online vote by August 22nd. The tentative deal finally unifies SAG and AFTRA television contracts. Like the DGA and WGA, SAG-AFTRA is getting the same annual minimum increases: 2.5% the first year, and 3% in years two and three, plus an 0.5% increase in the AMPTP’s’ contribution to the Pension Fund right away. But primetime minimums in the new agreement will be based on the legacy lower SAG wage rates, not the higher legacy AFTRA rates, which was not supposed to happen. See my most recent guild analysis: SAG-AFTRA, WGA, DGA & AMPTP Deals: Even In Better Economy, The Hollywood Poor Get Poorer

Pixar Tried Pressuring Sony To Join Alleged Wage-Fixing Cartel

A combination of court testimony, documents and emails show that Pixar and Disney targeted Sony Pictures Animation starting in 2004 for refusing to become Pixar vs Sonypart of an alleged wage-fixing/no poaching cartel which the pair already had in place with both LucasFilm’s Industrial Light and Magic and Jeffrey Katzenberg’s DreamWorks Animation. Pixar internally branded Sony as "ruthless" for daring to offer higher salaries and better career opporunities to workers. Then Pixar President Ed Catmull threatened to "aggressively go after" hiring Sony’s people as revenge for not joining the cartel. All because Sony Animation was recruiting as it saw fit and pushing up wages and promoting job mobility for workers across the computer animation movie studios.

Uncovered by the independent tech reporting Pando and its writer Mark Ames, this is the second in a series of reports on this subject. (Pixar, LucasFilm, DreamWorks Animation In Alleged Wage-Fixing Cartel To Boost Profit.) As Pando previously reported, the 3 big CGI animation studios had a longstanding and secret agreement to not poach each other’s employees and not ‘bid up’ salary offers. This pact was revealed in Silicon Valley’s ongoing "Techtopus" class action lawsuit.

Pixar tried to compel other computer animation studios to abide by this agreement as well. In terms of Hollywood, there’s no doubt that talented movie workers could have named their own salaries and employers if permitted at a time when CGI animation was supposed to be hotly competitive.

In May 2002, Sony Pictures launched a new CGI animated movie division because the profits of these successful films were skyrocketing. Heading it up were co-executive vice presidents Sandra Rabins and Penny Finkelman Cox, both having been hired from Jeffrey Katzenberg’s Dreamworks Animation.

By 2003, Sony Animation was upsetting the wage-fixing cartel. It poached Jill Culton from ILM. She was well known to Pixar already, having written the original story for the studio’s hit Monsters Inc.

A year later, on February 18th 2004, Pixar’s Ed Catmull emailed his boss Steve Jobs with the subject line “Sony” and complained:

Sony has approached all of our producers trying to hire them. They all just ignored Sony, although [REDACTED] forwarded on the email from the recruiter. Today, [REDACTED] one of our department managers told me that she was offered a position as producer for Sony’s first CG film and is likely to accept. We don’t have a no raid arrangement with Sony. We have set up one with ILM and Dreamworks which has worked quite well. I probably should go down and meet with Sandy and Penney and Sony to reach some agreement. Our people are become [sic] really desirable and we need to nip this in the bud."

Catmull, now president of Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios, confirmed in 2013 Techtopus testimony that he flew down for the meeting with “Sandy and Penney” to talk them into stop calling Pixar employees. Pando claims his goal was to rope Sony into the non-recuitment cartel.

Sources told Pando that Sony Animation’s understanding of the Catmull meeting was that Catmull had only informally asked Sony to let him know in future if they were hiring any Pixar employees.

But Sony wasn’t playing ball. Pando reports that in 2005 Pixar executives began frantically emailing each other about their growing concern that Sony Animation was once again recruiting their talent. In one email, a Pixar senior recruiter, Dawn Haagstad, writes to Pixar’s HR department an internal email subject headed “Studio Relationships” that describes Sony thusly:

They’re ruthless! They’ve called employees directly about applying for positions even though they know we don’t engage in poaching.

Another internal Pixar email from a senior producer said:

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‘Boyhood’ Dealmaker Making An Offer No One Can Refuse

BoyhoodsmI just now received this emailed offer from veteran indie film dealmaker John Sloss, and it’s a first for me and I’m a sucker for smart marketing and publicity. Naturally it’s timed to today’s box office opening in 5 theaters of the very well reviewed Boyhood (100% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, which is almost unheard-of) from Richard Linklater:

As you may be aware, Richard Linklater’s L-O-N-G awaited ‘Boyhood’ hits theatres in NY and LA today, and nationwide soon. In recognition of this auspicious event, I am offering any recipient of the email (strictly non-transferable) my patented "Time Back Guarantee," last offered, I believe, in connection with the theatrical release of ‘Exit Through The Gift Shop’.

That’s right, if you are not absolutely thrilled by ‘Boyhood’ and/or consider it not to be a good use of your time, I will give you that time back by performing any of your customary chores for up to 2 hours and 43 minutes.

Act Today! Only good while supply lasts!

Note: there are scientific methods to determine if you are feigning lack of appreciation for ‘Boyhood’.

Kill Me Bow Wow Now, TheWrap

We know TheWrap will do anything to generate online traffic, including email alerts about 200-pound scrotums. (Sharon Waxman cravenly calls such stories ‘clickbait’ and ignores the fact she’s murdering real journalism.) Now comes its newest feature: ‘In the Doghouse,’ TheWrap’s new video series where dogs review movies.DogReviewers "Did you know that dogs are the fastest growing demographic for television and film viewing? (Not a real statistic.)" TheWrap wrote today by way of introduction. "To keep up with this fast-reproducing audience, TheWrap proudly introduces its brand-new critical roundup where dogs finally get to weigh in on their favorite movies and shows."

The first installment features film criticism from a miniature schnauzer and a pug who express "unnerving enthusiasm" for Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes.

I suggest TheWrap’s next step should be to replace Waxman with a Weimaraner.

Kill Me Now, CNBC Anchorman

CNBCKillMeNowBad enough that CNBC recently outed Apple CEO Tim Cook. Now a CNBC anchor had this exchange with Rentrak box office analyst Paul Dergarabedian today. Dergarabedian mentioned that this summer’s box office is down -19% at midpoint partly because Universal pushed back Fast & Furious 7 to 2015. Dergarabedian predicted next summer’s numbers will probably be up +20% with that movie opening as well as Disney/Marvel’s The Avengers 2.

"I cant wait for The Avengers movie because I’ve missed John Steed and Emma Peel," responded CNBC anchor Bill Griffeth making like Ron Burgundy.

Dergarabedian, somewhat stunned by the anchor’s stupidity, politely corrected, "That was a different Avengers. But I like your thinking."

"We have to go see the movie," CNBC co-anchor Sue Herera then said to her colleague.

"You go see the movie," Griffeth barked back.

More Details Emerge About Jeff Robinov’s Studio 8 Deal At Sony

I have more details about that distribution deal about to close between Jeff Robinov’s production company Studio 8 and Sony Pictures. It will be great to have another buyer. Robinov China Hollywood2Variety just now speculated that an official announcement could be made as soon as next week on his move from Burbank to Culver City which I was first to report back on October 25th. On his way to raising $1 billion in financing and debt after receiving a sizeable financial commitment from Shanghai-based Fosun International, Robinov has been quite open about wanting to base Studio 8 at Sony Pictures. Sony will distribute the 4 to 6 pictures a year from the former Warner Bros Pictures czar’s Studio 8. But I’ve learned that Robinov also is arranging to have Sony post the P&A for his movie releases. That’s a big savings for him, especially considering that marketing movies these days can range anywhere from $30M to $70M for domestic releases and $150M-$200M including  international for global tentpoles of the kind Robinov used to make at WB.

I also have learned that Sony will distribute Studio 8 films worldwide but not in China and maybe not in the United Kingdom. I also hear that the partnership is not necessarily limited just to distribution. While there is no obligation on Studio 8′s part or Sony’s part to co-finance films, the terms of their deal don’t rule out the possibility. Robinov has been working out the details now with Sony USA chief Michael Lynton and SPE chair Amy Pascal ever since their talks started.

Variety learned that, while Fosun has agreed to invest $200M in Robinov’s new venture, Sony is ponying up $50M for a 20% stake in the company. And the trade said Sony’s ownership percentage could decrease if another financier comes into the fold, like Entertainment Film Distributors which is in talks with Studio 8 to become an investor as well as its UK distributor. Robinov is finding what so many others in the movie biz find: once you get the first chunk of change, more big bucks from others start to flow. So discussions are also underway with big banks to provide senior debt to Studio 8, Variety says.

Back on October 25th, I reported that Robinov was talking with Dune Capital Management Chairman/CEO Steve Mnuchin and GK Films honcho Graham King and Sony’s Lynton/Pascal about a Thomas Tull/Legendary type deal. He would bring to Sony already financed pictures like Tull did to Warner Bros. However, Robinov was, and still is, uninterested in helping financing Sony’s slate like Tull did at WB. King began to have financing woes so Robinov next looked to the Huayi Brothers Media Corp until those negotiations ended. Then Fosun stepped up.