Mark Harris on the summer box office this year:

Should studios be worried? I think they should be, a little. It’s probably not a complete coincidence that the year’s biggest surprise hit, The Lego Movie, is a self-aware fable predicting an eventual revolt by a captive audience that’s tired of being told that everything is awesome when everything isn’t.

Ben Fritz:

The actual revenue value for Hollywood studios of a box office dollar—the only financial data point typically reported publicly—varies widely. In China, where practically no one buys DVDs—at least not legitimately—and digital and TV distribution businesses are minimal, studios receive only about 27 cents on the box office dollar, according to internal studio analyses viewed by The Wall Street Journal. In the U.S., with its comparatively robust post-theatrical businesses, $1 of box office translates into about $1.75 of total revenue over a decade.

The recent rhetoric out of Hollywood seems to center around how well films are doing overseas. Forget what you see in the domestic box office, they say. Which is misdirection, at best. Bullshit, at worst.

Janko Roettgers:

The new PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Entertainment and Media Outlook 2014-2018 report shows that revenue from online video services is set to overtake box office revenue in 2018. The report actually predicts that box office sales are going to slightly grow this year to $11.4 billion, up from $10.8 billion in 2013, and after being more or less flat since 2009. PwC predicts that box office revenue will keep an annual growth rate of 3.1 percent in the coming years, which means that people will spend $12.5 billion on movie tickets in 2018.

But revenue from subscription video services like Netflix in particular is growing at a much faster rate, from $3.3 billion in 2013 to a projected $10 billion in 2018. Add transactional video services like iTunes and Google Play, where you pay to rent or buy a digital copy of a movie or TV show, and you arrive at a total of $14 billion in revenue in 2018.

This is nothing new — DVDs sales used to outpace box office sales as well. And this will undoubtedly lead Hollywood to pour more resources into supporting these newer services, which is good.

The difference here is that it’s hard to see a world where the box office regains the crown — as it did against DVDs way back when. Hollywood literally cannot raise ticket prices fast enough to offset the mediocre film lineups they continue to pump out.

I do not like the feeling that I experience when people talk about how much ‘Lost’ sucked. I can no longer acknowledge it. I spent three years acknowledging it. I hear you. I understand. I get it. I’m not in denial about it.

Damon Lindelof, one of the writers of Lost, speaking to Taffy Brodesser-Akner in an interview for The New York Times Magazine.

As someone who had a similar early career, I’m fascinated by his story.

José Arroyo:

In June 2013, at a University of Southern California event with George Lucas, Steven Spielberg predicted an implosion of the film industry. The failure at the box office of “tentpoles”, mega-budget movies that are designed with potential sequels in mind and anchor a studio’s release schedule, “are going to go crashing to the ground, and that’s going to change the paradigm,” he said.

This may not seem to be happening, but Anne Thompson shows us in her interesting and illuminating new book, The $11 Billion Year, that the prediction has already come true. White House Down, After Earth, The Lone Ranger, Turbo and R.I.P.D. all tanked at the box office and the whole cinematic apparatus, the paradigm of production, distribution, exhibition and the technological, economic and political structures that underpinned it, have indeed changed.

While I previously stated that I believed this would happen faster than anyone realized, there’s something obvious overlooked in this analysis: every single one of those films mentioned in the above paragraph, sucked.

This isn’t rocket science. 

Dawn Chmielewski:

Interviews with several entertainment industry executives who have attempted to do business with Xbox Entertainment Studios describe an operation with big ambitions to dominate the living room, but one that has gotten off to a rough start.

Sources paint a picture of a disorganized studio that struggles to close deals and lacks a fully fleshed-out business model. This inability to execute has turned off potential studio partners, they say, complicating the process of securing premium content.

Welcome to the land war in Asia, Microsoft.

Alexander Huls:

Blur your eyes, and they might have all been the same tedious, manipulative movie. I felt nothing watching these characters disappear off-screen, hurtling toward whatever lies beyond. I’m no sociopath. The problem is that death at the movies has died. The movie industry has corrupted one of cinema’s — if not all of fiction’s — most emotionally taxing moments into hollow formula, the kind of thing that passes in the blink of a plot point leading to a literal, if not figurative, explosive finale that takes up half the budget. Considering this, it’s odd that death’s killer is the new, risk-averse economic logic of Hollywood.

Hard to argue given the plots of so many movies these days — naturally, many based on comics. Hollywood has conquered death — and cheapened it in the process.

Oscars, The Grouch

I hate almost all awards shows.1 The one exception has always been the Academy Awards.

I’ve watched the Oscars every year for as long as I can remember. To those who know me as a movie buff, this shouldn’t be surprising. Still, I can’t stand the Golden Globes or that various other pageants you can find on random television stations during awards season. But the Academy Awards always seemed special to me. Beyond reproach.

But I fear I’m starting to lose that loving feeling.

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Brooks Barnes on companies like DreamWorks working with partners on their own tablets:

Entertainment companies have been surprised at how speedily children have taken to tablets, sometimes forgoing TV sets altogether. As a result, DreamWorks, Disney and their competitors are searching for ways to make it easier for users to find their characters on portable devices.

It’s a smart thing to try, but:

The DreamTab is not a toy. Switched into parent mode, it provides roughly the same computing power as an iPad, the companies said.

This seems like a mistake. “Roughly”? I bet it’s nowhere near as powerful at those price points. And people, be they children or adults, will not be fooled. I think they should pick one market and go after it. This is not going to compete with the iPad as an all-around tablet.

Ben Fritz:

After years of trying to convince consumers to buy movies online, Hollywood found a solution in 2013: Make it the only option.

Sounds like the ploy worked — but:

Digital growth just barely made up for ongoing declines in sales and rentals of physical discs. The total U.S. home-entertainment market remains well below its peak of more than $22 billion 2004, a drop that has squeezed the profits of every studio and led to widespread cost cutting.

And buried at the end:

Also helping digital sales, executives said, have been price cuts that mean most releases are now offered for $15 to $20.

In other words, digital sales of films are doing better because Hollywood created new (false) release windows and slashed prices — but they’re still not doing anywhere near as well as the DVD heydays.

I would credit two other things as well. First, Netflix is becoming less and less about movies, so services that are actually about movies, like iTunes, are seeing better sales. Second, with services like iTunes in the Cloud, I no longer have to download and store several gigabytes of data when I buy a movie. Instead, I can just stream it when I want it. Yes, I still “own” it, but I store it elsewhere.

So when a rental costs $5 but will only be available in two weeks, and a purchase costs $15 available immediately, I’m now buying more films again — especially because I don’t have to worry about where to store them. And $15 is actually now about the price of a ticket for one to the movie theater.

The Astonishing Triumph Of ‘Her’

I’ve been thinking about the new Spike Jonze film Her quite a bit recently. I really enjoyed it when I saw it last week, but the more I think about it, the more I like it. It’s one of those films that sticks with you and grows in your head. The best kind of film, in my opinion.

When I first heard the premise of the movie, it raised some obvious red flags. A guy falls in love with his Siri-like operating system. Oh boy. Assuming the plot wasn’t a joke being spread to obfuscate the real plot, the liklihood of such a film falling flat on its face seemed very high. Hollywood is generally incompetent when it comes to films about technology. And trying to mix emotion with technology sounded like a recipe for a total disaster.

And yet, Her turned out brilliantly.

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The Economist:

As the studios spend ever more on lavish prequels, sequels and “franchise” films, supposedly as a way to reduce risk by backing proven formulas, there is a growing danger that these movies will be nixed by jaded punters. Steven Spielberg, no introduction necessary, reckons that the studios could face “meltdown” if several big films flop at once. Studios are increasingly putting out just two types of film: mega-budget ones that can move the needle for the conglomerates that own them, and tiddlers for under $25m that can do nicely when they work. “Hollywood is like America,” says Kevin Misher, a producer. “The middle class has been squeezed.”

Mr Goldman described how, by 1983, the studios had all but given up developing their own ideas. Instead freelance writers, producers and other outsiders toured Hollywood touting ready-cooked packages, often with the stars already signed on and the script written. Now the studios, having cut their remaining development spending to boost their marketing budgets, are even more reliant on outsiders to design their product; imagine if Apple or Toyota did this. The studios are also looking outside for the money to finance films. A new species of intermediaries, such as Village Roadshow Entertainment Group and Skydance, have sprung up to bankroll projects.

The studios are now essentially giant marketing machines and not much more. Sort of sad, actually.