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Amicable Splits, Miraculous Revivals and Movie Piracy!

June 14th, 2010 No comments

Notable in Hollywood news this week: verification of a long-rumored split, confirmation of a sudden (but friendly) departure, the resurrection of two franchises and the reinstatement of movie piracy, at least for the purposes of gathering theatergoer coin…

Amicable Split: Part 1

“Twilight” series fans, rejoice! Summit Entertainment, the film company behind “Breaking Dawn,” the adaptation of the fourth (and final) book in Stephenie Meyer’s ‘Twilight’ saga, announced on Friday that “Breaking Dawn” will be split into two films, with the first of the pair to be released on November 18, 2011. Set to be directed by Bill Condon, (“Dreamgirls“), production on “Breaking Dawn” will start this fall; all of its stars and supporting cast are returning for another go-round. The third film in the “Twilight” series, “Eclipse,” directed by David Slade, (“Hard Candy,” “30 Days of Night”), opens later this month, on June 30th.

It’s long been rumored that the final tome in Stephenie Meyer’s wildly-successful ‘vampires and werewolves chaste love triangle’ series would be split into two films, a la the last two “Pirates of the Caribbean” sequels, which, coincidentally, are about to be followed up by a fourth ‘Pirates’ franchise picture (see below for more…)

Amicable Split: Part 2

News leaked out quietly this week that longtime Sony executive Peter Schlessel, whose title as “President of Worldwide Affairs” had to be one of the coolest studio titles ever, is leaving the studio after 21 years of involvement as a senior dealmaker, advisor and, as the local trades described him, consigliere. It’s not like he’s going far: he’ll be joining Graham King (“Gangs of New York,” “The Young Victoria,” “The Departed”) as President of GK Films; Schlessel was instrumental in bringing the successful British producer into the Sony fold via a distribution deal that will see the studio releasing GK product like the upcoming Johnny DeppAngelina Jolie starrer “The Tourist,” as well as Martin Scorsese’s planned 3-D adaptation of the best-selling youth novel “The Invention of Hugo Cabret.”

 A former president of Columbia Pictures and successful producer in his own right, Schlessel most recently ran Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions Group, which acquired Sony’s only 2009 Best Picture Academy Award nominee, “District 9,” oversaw the “This Is It” Michael Jackson documentary and engineered a DVD output deal with the Weinstein Company. His ability to move upward in Sony was capped by the presence of studio co-chairs Michael Lynton and Amy Pascal, so Schlessel made himself into a ‘free agent,’ to employ a sports analogy, and joined one of the hottest teams in the league. In the interest of full disclosure, I have met Mr. Schlessel, and found him to be bright and personable. His career success speaks for itself, as do the many kudos he’s received since word leaked out of his departure from Sony.   

Back From the Dead (or Dead Drunk)!

Two Hollywood franchises were resurrected recently: Russell Brand has been re-Branded as “Arthur,” the lovable drunk made popular in Steve  Gordon’s 1981 Oscar-winning film (and its less successful sequel). He’ll be joined by Greta Gerwig and Jennifer Garner as his love interests, along with supporting veterans Helen Mirren and Nick Nolte. The new script was written by Peter Baynham, (“Bruno”), who re-wrote “Arthur” as a vehicle for his pal Brand.

Bourne-again?!

And if you though Jason Bourne was a distant memory, forget it… Universal has revived its moneymaking Bourne franchise despite the fact that star Matt Damon and director Paul Greengrass, who directed the last two of the three ‘Bourne’ big screen entires, will not be returning to the series. A treatment  for the fourth intallment in the series, “The Bourne Legacy,” will be written by the screenwriter of the three previous films, Tony Gilroy, (“Michael Clayton,” “State of Play”), who will also write a ‘bible’ for the ‘Bourne’ franchise, suggesting that the studio sees additional spin-off or sequel opportunities in the world of shadowy spy Jason Bourne. Oddly, although series creator Robert Ludlum died in 2001, his work has never been hotter, with half-a-dozen properties in varying stages of development; even odder is the fact that the latest film takes its title from a ‘Bourne’ novel written by authorized Ludlum successor Eric Lustbader, but will not take its plot: Gilroy will provide that.  

Hollywood Hearts Pirates

In another demonstration that nothing succeeds like success (or, in this case, excess), Disney has announced that Jerry Bruckheimer’s ‘Pirates of the Caribbean” series’ latest entry, “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” has cast Geoffrey Rush for a fourth go-round as Captain Hector Barbossa opposite Johnny Depp, who committed to another ‘Pirates’ film after the stellar box office success of the first three entries. Both Depp and Rush join a largely-new cast, including new director Rob Marshall (“Chicago”) who took over from the previous films’ Gore Verbinski, along with new leading lady Penelope Cruz and new villain Ian McShane. In addition to its two returning stars and producer Jerry Bruckheimer, also returning to the franchise are screewriters Terry Rossio and Ted Elliott, who penned the previous three ‘Pirates’ films.

Blue? – or – Boo!

June 3rd, 2010 1 comment

A la “Speed,” here’s a a pop quiz: What was the most profitable movie last year?

If you guessed “Avatar,” you’re wrong. James Cameron’s movie may have made the most money of any film last year, but the winner in terms of profitability is “Paranormal Activity,” the ‘little movie that could’… “Paranormal Activity,” written and directed (on HD video) by Oren Peli for something like $11 thousand, went on to make $108 million domestically. For its part, “Avatar” made the most money ($750 million domestically, and about twice that overseas), but it also cost the most. The budget for “Avatar” is rumored to be in the $300 million range, while Peli used his own home to save on expenses. So it all adds up to big profits for Paramount – which, coincidentally, released both pictures. 

But in terms of return on investment, Peli’s “Paranormal Activity” earned an unheard-of-in-Hollywood 9,800% return. That makes “Avatar”‘s 750% profit (and remember – that’s worldwide) look downright puny. But pictures like “Paranormal Activity” are phenomena which rarely occur; Hollywood’s last bona fide breakout hit of this scale was “The Blair Witch Project,” and that was ten years ago…

Apart from their mutual heritage as very successful Paramount releases (‘Paranormal’ was actually a 2007 L.A. “Screamfest” festival entry before it made the rounds in Hollywood and ultimately ended up at Dreamworks, which ceded it to corporate parent Paramount), both pictures share another attribute which increased their odds: they are both genre movies. And that’s the secret to their successes…

Genre movies are Hollywood’s ‘ace up its sleeve,’ because they are popular and profitable and fairly cheap. Neither “Paranormal Activity” nor “Avatar” are fair examples, since they represent the exceptional upside. But you can point to a lot of solid genre performers in the marketplace, like “District 9” or “The Hangover,” both of which represented a low budget with high returns. Other genre successes include martial-arts/crime films (almost every Steven Seagal film has been quite successful – believe it or not…), action films (Val Kilmer still works; so does Dolph Lundgren), and the most recent sub-genre entry: dance films. These films represent something of a ‘sure bet’ for the studios (or their low-budget subsidiaries), since a low-budget film is far more likely to make money if it catches on with audiences – especially compared to their big-budget tentpole films, which must basically succeed just to break even. And a genre flop? Pffft. It’s dust – and dirt cheap at that…

 

Sure, the studios like to insist they’re creating art, 24 times a second, to paraphrase French New Wave film director Jean-Luc Godard, but really it’s ‘show business,’ not ‘show art.’ And like everybody else (except moreso), Hollywood wants to make money. That’s why they make side-bets with genre pictures while flaunting their big-budget productions. And it should come as no surprise that the most successful genre of all has been the horror/thriller genre. The success of “The Ring,” “Saw,” “Hostel,” “Scream” and all their gory and/or shriek-inducing sequels is part of a tried-and-true approach of marketing movies to teens that will cause them to slide together a bit closer in the dark. Granted, the splatter factor of recent years may be greater reason to cover each others’ eyes instead, but the business model remains the same: scare the sh#t out of the kids and they’ll always come back for more.

Genre success isn’t science fiction – I’m not joking. Genre success is kick-ass and steppin’ out. And an $11 thousand movie that makes over a hundred million? That’s genre success that’s truly shocking…