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Hollywood Hat Trick

October 25th, 2010 No comments

Scaring Up Big B.O. Horror Bucks

This weekend’s $41.5 million opening by “Paranormal Activity 2” set a record for a horror film opening, besting the 2009 “Friday the 13th” reboot’s $40.6 million opening. “Paranormal Activity 2,” was written by Michael R. Perry, Christopher Landon and Tom Pabst, with a story by Perry based on the first film’s director Oren Peli’s original characters. The new ‘Paranormal’ is directed by Tod Williams, and has already grossed $63.6 million worldwide. With a budget of about $3 million, “Paranormal Activity 2” cost roughly 200 times more than the original film, and would have to make $2.9 billion at the worldwide box office to match the profitability of the first film. So it’s ‘good news, bad news’ for Paramount, which managed expectations for the latest film and utilized a more sophisticated ‘viral’ campaign for it, resulting in the new record opening, but it’s a foregone conclusion that the once-in-a-generation success of “Paranormal Activity” won’t be repeated.

Not In My Back Story…

Another sequel to another surprise hit of last year is making news: “The Hangover 2,” which is filming in Thailand, has nixed a cameo appearance by scandal-racked star Mel Gibson. The sequel to last year’s biggest grossing R-rated comedy, which made $277 million domestically and $420 million worldwide, was scheduled to include Gibson as a reclusive tattoo artist living in Bangkok, but ‘concerns among cast and crew’ have forced director Todd Philips to re-cast Liam Neeson in the role. Cast member Zach Galifianakis recently alluded in a web podcast to a strong “protest” he was voicing about his latest project, but he never mentioned Gibson by name. It’s only the latest in a string of public-relations nightmares for the former box-office champ, following the leaking of recorded phone tirades made against Oksana Grigorieva, his former girlfriend and mother of his year-old son. Gibson’s messy private life has caused his stalwart pal Jodie Foster to put the release of her recent directing effort, “The Beaver,” starring Gibson as a man who expresses himself through a beaver hand puppet, on hold; the film may never get a theatrical release, and instead go ‘straight to video’ as something of an oddity. Insofar as Mike Tyson, a convicted rapist, was offered a cameo in the first film, it seems clear Gibson has not been forgiven by Hollywood for his anti-Semitic, misogynist and racist comments or behavior – nor does it feel like that will happen anytime soon.

Don’t Cats Only Get 9 Lives?

As if the MGM bankruptcy and reorganization could get any messier, another Hollywood film studio, Lions Gate Entertainment, has made an 11th hour bid for the beleaguered Leo the Lion, which was about to face a summary bankruptcy reorganization after a creditor’s vote at the end of this week and be turned over to Spyglass Entertainment principals Gary Barber and Roger Birnbaum to run. Now Lions Gate has offered a package valued at $1.8 billion, including a provision by Carl Icahn, Lions Gate’s largest shareholder, to purchase $963 million of MGM’s $4 billion in debt, making Icahn one of MGM’s biggest creditors (including the $500 million of MGM debt he already owns). As its chief creditor, Icahn would have more say over whether MGM would accept the previous plan to have Barber and Birnbaum run the show, or merge Lions Gate Entertainment with MGM, which Lions Gate chairman Jon Feltheimer says will result in a more vital company with a stronger cash flow. To complicate matters, Icahn acknowledged the presence of another MGM bidder, who has not been identified, although reports surfaced recently of interest by Sahara India Pariwar, an Indian conglomerate. As this bizarre, long march to ‘resolution’ (whatever that might mean) for MGM plays out, it’s clear that Leo the Lion still embraces drama…

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…