Movies - Studios postsSunday June 13, 2010
Open Letter to Patrick Goldstein
Please stop writing about right-wing culture critics. Please. They're idiots. They think the product of Hollywood is liberal when it's blisteringly conservative. They study each film looking for some liberal thing that liberal Hollywood "snuck" into a film without asking themselves why liberal Hollywood would need to sneak some liberal thing into a film. You bend over backwards for these guys, you try to figure out where they're coming from, you think they can be appeased, but they can't be appeased. The first sentence of your post last Wednesday was about as laughable as any first sentence can be: "If we could wave a magic wand and do just one thing that would bring true happiness to the right-wing blogosphere, what would it be?" The answer? Nothing. There's nothing we can do. Right-wing culture critics are in a permanent state of dissatisfaction. That's their raison d'etre. That's their super power. They're like Mr. Furious from "Mystery Men." They have the power to get really, really angry... and that's it. Take away that power and they have nothing.
As for the space you're giving them? Please use it to cover the studios. Please. The day after your worthless post about the right-wing blogosphere, you wrote about Fox Studios and the way it handles its screenwriters—including 11 screenwriters for "The A-Team"—and that's exactly what the rest of us, who don't live in Los Angeles, and don't know from studio bosses, need.
We know a little about the studios. In one of the countless "Downfall" mashups last year, there was a line complaining about how Fox dumbs down its superhero movies, about how they'd give goddamn Wolverine webshooters and a bat cape if they could. So people know. Last year I wrote a post—"Dumb Like a Fox"—ranking each studios' super-saturated films over the last five years by their average box office. The studio with the lowest average box office? Fox. The studio with the fewest fresh films according to top critics at Rotten Tomatoes? Fox again. There's a correlation there that, for whatever reason, people keep missing. Particularly people at Fox.
So we know Fox sux; we just don't know why Fox sux. Your recent column helps. We even have a possible name to attach to all of these lousy films: Fox co-chairman Tom Rothman. Nikki Finke, in her column, absolves Rothman, but you imply that this is because he is her source, or someone close to him is her source. Either way, you make clear, his Finkeish absolution is a farce. You write:
As anyone who's ever worked at Fox can attest, the brilliant, hard-working and, well, often overbearing Rothman is at the center of every key decision -- and some not-so-key decisions -- made at the studio. When Brett Ratner was making "X-Men: The Last Stand" at the studio, he once complained that the studio couldn't even send out publicity material for the film until Rothman had approved the photo stills.
Then you write about the process at Fox:
At Fox, the real art form isn't the movie, but picking the right release date and creating the right poster and trailer. Fox is a packaging studio, where the most creative person isn't any of the screenwriters, but Tony Sella, the marketing wizard who has become something of a genius at crafting irresistible trailers, TV spots and poster art for less-than-irresistible movies.
So now we have a name and a process to back up the numbers. We're that much closer to accountability.
Please keep doing this. This is what you're good at. This is what makes your column worth reading. Find out for us what we can't find out. Let us know what we don't know. Right-wing culture critics? Not only can we find that out for ourselves, we already know what they're saying. And we know it's not worth knowing.
Your sometime reader,
The Ghost Release
...to 147 theaters. That's still 1/16th the number of theaters Summit gave to "Sex Drive" (which made $8 million total), or 1/18th the number of theaters Summit gave to "Sorority Row" (which made $11 million total). So: wide like Calista Flockhart.
Last Sunday I wrote:
Quality film, in other words, isn't just treated as its own genre. It's treated as a genre 50 times less important than the others.
It's actually worse than that. "The Ghost Writer" is a genre film. It's a thriller, and feels like a thriller, and is perfectly accessible as a thriller. Normally such a film would open in over 2,000 theaters. If it included cheap thrills and young bodies and blood. Moviegoers still might not go see it, as they didn't go see "Sex Drive" or "Sorority Row," but at least the movie would fit within the parameters that allow studios to open movies in 2,000+ theaters.
Unfortunately, Polanski made a good movie. So if you're in a part of the country that isn't showing "The Ghost Writer," this is why Summit isn't letting you to see it. Because Polanski made a good movie.
"The Ghost Writer": Summit Entertainment's Latest Delicate Flower
Last Friday I went to the opening-night showing of Roman Polanski’s “The Ghost Writer” at the Egyptian Theater about a mile from my home. It’s a fun movie, smart and adult, and so of course it’s only playing in 42 other theaters around the country. Not even one per state.
Will it go wider? It’s being distributed by Summit Entertainment L.L.C. (as opposed to L.P. (R.I.P.)), the minor studio responsible for both the “Twilight” movies and “The Hurt Locker.” Last November Summit opened the “Twilight” sequel in over 4,000 theaters and who knows how many screens. Last July it opened “The Hurt Locker” in four theaters and probably that many screens. During its entire, six-month run, “Locker” wound up making $12 million domestically, which the “Twilight” sequel most likely made by the first showing of the first day.
This isn’t an argument against “Twilight.” I’m not arguing against making money. I’m arguing against losing money.
Here’s the history of Summit since it became an L.L.C. in 2006. Sorted by U.S. gross:
||U.S. Gross / Theaters||Opening / Theaters||Open|
|1||Twilight: New Moon||37%||$296,023,000||4,124||$142,839,137||4,024||11/20/09|
|5||Never Back Down||16%||$24,850,922||2,729||$8,603,195||2,729||3/14/08|
|7||Fly Me to the Moon||22%||$13,816,982||713||$1,900,523||452||8/15/08|
|8||The Hurt Locker||97%||$12,671,105||535||$145,352||4||6/26/09|
|10||Next Day Air||22%||$10,027,047||1,139||$4,111,043||1,138||5/8/09|
|15||The Brothers Bloom||48%||$3,531,756||209||$90,400||4||5/15/09|
|16||The Ghost Writer||75%||$1,129,000||43||$183,009||4||2/19/10|
* Rotten Tomatoes rating from top critics only
Look at those theater totals at places 9 through 14—compared with "The Hurt Locker" at no. 8 and with "The Ghost Writer," which just opened. I’ve been railing against this kind of thing for years. A.O. Scott railed better last August when he critiqued the general direction of movies:
Middle-aged actors and critically lauded directors look like extravagances rather than sound investments. Forty is the new dead. Auteur is French for unemployed. “The Hurt Locker” — the kind of fierce and fiery action movie that might have been a blockbuster once upon a time — is treated like a delicate, exotic flower, released into art houses and sold on its prestige rather than on its visceral power.
“The Hurt Locker” was Summit’s delicate flower last summer, and, because they released it delicately, they made money from it delicately. Now they’re treating “The Ghost Writer” the same way.
Again, the problem isn't that “The Ghost Writer” is released into 1/100th the number of theaters of “Twilight." It’s that it’s released into 1/50th the number of theaters of “Push” or “Never Back Down” or “Sorority Row” or “Sex Drive": Crap that nobody wants, nobody goes to, and which lose money. But at least these movies are given the chance to lose money. "The Hurt Locker" and "The Ghost Writer" aren't even given that chance.
Quality film, in other words, isn't just treated as its own genre. It's treated as a genre 50 times less important than the others.When the others lose money.
It's a greater mystery than the one the ghost writer solves.