Has “Snowpiercer” shifted the VOD / theatrical model for indie films?

July 22nd, 2014 by

If you are interesting in the business of movies, especially in emerging trends, this is a must-read from Indiewire by Anne Thompson and Tom Brueggemann because it suggests we are witnessing a paradigm shift happening before our very eyes that could have enormous implications in the indie film world.

Thirty years in, Harvey Weinstein knows the distribution business. While he’s a wily theatrical animal who knows when to spend big on a wide release and when to dump a movie, he took a radical route with Bong Joon-ho’s action adventure “Snowpiercer,” starring Chris Evans and Tilda Swinton, seizing the chance to try something new. Weinstein’s decision to open an action picture with major movie stars via autonomous subsidiary RADiUS with a video-on-demand release two weeks after its theatrical opening is rippling through the film community.

As the Hollywood studios struggle with a depressed summer box office, losing the fickle young male demo and locked into a standoff with theater chains on release windows, they’re watching the independents experiment with video-on-demand release models. “Snowpiercer” marks a tipping point in the movie industry’s shift from analog to digital. Why? It marks the most commercial movie to ever open in theaters and quickly go to VOD.

According to Weinstein, following two weeks in theaters, “Snowpiercer”‘s first week on VOD earned $2 million, a company record.


Recognizing the shifts in the market, Weinstein banked on the VOD future three years ago by starting an autonomous division at The Weinstein Co., RADiUS, headed by two presidents, Tom Quinn and Jason Janego, who had pioneered theatrical/VOD releasing at Magnolia under president Eamonn Bowles. Believing passionately that there’s a bigger audience to be found on VOD, the duo have been experimenting with different models for multi-platform releases, from premium video-on-demand, which makes a film available at a high premium price-point ahead of theatrical, to theatrical with a much shorter VOD window.

The traditional model is at least a 90 day window between theatrical and VOD release. From an exhibitor’s perspective, this makes sense because it gives theaters an exclusivity period which “incentivizes” people to get out of their homes and into the local bijou. That model still stands for major studio releases, but things are changing rapidly in the indie world.

The Indiewire article goes into great length about how Weinstein determined not to go the traditional wide theatrical release route for Snowpiercer [bottom line, he didn't think the movie was mainstream enough to warrant those P&A costs], but rather opted to do two weeks in limited theaters, then to VOD — to generate revenue and build buzz — and then to increased theatrical exposure.

What’s really informative about the article is this:

Here’s TOH box office analyst Tom Brueggemann’s financial projected breakdown based on a 2500-screen theatrical release reaching a projected $50 million, based on sources inside and outside TWC and RADiUS.

The theatrical breakdown:

  • Marketing expense of $25 million
  • Film rental (45%) of $22.5 million
  • Weinstein has an ongoing deal with Netflix (RADiUS as an autonomous company owned by Weinstein doesn’t fall under this). Sources familiar with gross-based Netflix deals suggest that the payout to TWC could have been around $10 million.
  • Blu-Ray/DVD would have grossed around $6 million (split revenue, with around $3 million net to TWC).
  • Cable, depreciated somewhat by Netflix exposure, perhaps $6 million more.

Using those figures (again, all of this comes from discussions with multiple players who have worked on specialized films that have grossed in this range, but these could vary widely) show that at $50 million gross TWC would end up netting around $18 million after marketing is deducted when all initial platform revenues came in.

The VOD breakdown: VOD earnings are harder to calculate and project, but here’s a stab after discussing details with multiple industry sources:

  • The first week’s reported total earnings on VOD and iTunes was $2 million, ranking #1 on the latter. Industry estimates on the distributor return — RADiUS would not confirm any specific deals — ranges from 60 to 80%, much more than theatrical.
  • Theatrical gross is up to $3.5 million, with $5 million or higher possible. That would mean film rental of between $2-2.5 million. Marketing of about $5 million is a fraction of what TWC’s would have been (increasing VOD sales), but likely could equal the film’s theater gross.
  • Radius cites 85 million potential customers (multiple people can view the same purchase). 1-2% of these potential buyers actually purchasing the film — a high number for a first-run or shortly thereafter VOD title — would mean somewhere between 850,000 and 1.7 million buyers.
  •  Cable VOD and iTunes costs vary — different cable markets have different price points (it’s $6.99 on Time-Warner LA right now — this often decreases in later weeks). ITunes started at $14.99 to buy the film. Let’s estimate that between the two, the average price ultimately will be $9.
  • A 2% customer purchase level would mean, at a $9 average price, $15.3 million in revenue. RADiUS’ share estimated at 65% would be about $10 million. Based on the first weekend of $2 million in purchases, this could be a high, but again, the holds for VOD are much better than for theaters.
  •  Blu-Ray/DVD and cable would still bring in revenue, but with the lower theatrical gross and the early VOD, at a lower level than with a pure theatrical release. Figure an additional $5 million return to RADiUS.

By this model, RADiUS gets an after-marketing initial return of $13 million including theatrical gross and subtracting marketing. Again, this is calculating at the high end of possible performance from this multi-platform pattern. The theatrical-driven alternative model was calculated at a slightly less optimistic ($50 million) estimate and again looks like it might have shown a profit of $18 million.

In context though, and as a test of an unproven model, this is more than a respectable showing. It’s a strong enough result to suggest RADiUS and others will continue to experiment with this.

As a writer, I have a choice: Learn about all this business stuff or not. Personally, I prefer knowledge to ignorance on these matters, although I certainly respect writers who find the more they know, the less creative they are. That said, if you’re ever in an admittedly rare situation where you write an indie feature that is so low-budget and does really well at the box office, you could actually see net profit returns, it’s wise to know the lay of the land how the revenue streams break down on the VOD side of things — hence the value of this breakdown above.

Meanwhile as a consumer, I am thrilled about this approach to VOD. On a personal level, it meant I was able to see Snowpiercer weeks before it opened at a local theater. Granted it’s a movie I will have to see again on a big screen (which I will gladly do) because of the mind-blowing visuals, but knowing I can watch movies the same day or close to when they are released in NY and LA is a major plus. In addition, as a fan of indie films, the more VOD penetrates into the consciousness of consumers living outside major urban areas, I have to think that will grow the overall revenue stream for this market segment which in turn will mean more product for us fans.

Finally, another plug for Snowpiercer. It’s an amazing accomplishment with a story that works on all levels: emotional, intellectual and visceral.

For the rest of the Indiewire article, go here.

UPDATE: Here is a featurette on Snowpiercer:

See Snowpiercer!

“Box-Office Woes: Age and Gender Gap Helping Fuel Summer Decline”

July 18th, 2014 by

Summer 2014 is very likely to go down as a memorable one, but for the wrong reasons. From Flavorwire this:



Going into the summer season, domestic box office was up nine percent over last year. Now, it’s down an astonishing 19 percent. A full four percent of that was just from the Fourth of July weekend, when the junkie didn’t get its hit. The junkie needs its hit. “Thank goodness we have Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Guardians of the Galaxy coming, because we need it,” Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Rentrak, told Variety, uncomfortably aping the language of the industry’s beloved street-corner crackhead archetype. “Boy, do we need it.”

Down 19%. So the inevitable question: Why? The Hollywood Reporter weighs in with this analysis:

For years, Hollywood studios have catered to young males in building their summer slates. But as the demo takes fewer trips to the multiplex, distributors are scrambling amid a 20 percent decline in summer revenue in North America. It’s one of the worst year-over-year drops to date, putting increased pressure on global returns.

According to the MPAA, frequent moviegoers between the ages of 18 and 25 plunged 17 percent in 2013, the largest drop of any age bracket, while those between 12 and 17 fell by 15 percent. Some blame video games, YouTube or a disconnect between studio tastes and what today’s kids like. Regardless, in 2007, nearly 65 percent of opening-weekend ticket buyers for Spider-Man 3 were under 25. This summer, only 51 percent of The Amazing Spider-Man 2‘s initial audience was 25 and under.

Young males down 20% from 2014 to 2013. So if young guys aren’t going to movies as much, where can Hollywood turn? How about women:

Adding to the problem, many male-skewing summer tentpoles are luring fewer females. That’s an issue because the women demo is wielding more influence. Moms and girls helped turn Frozen into one of the biggest successes of all time ($1.27 billion), and they have powered Disney’s Maleficent to nearly $670 million, including $222 million in North America — more than any other summer film aside from X-Men: Days of Future Past. Fox’s The Fault in Our Stars also mobilized younger girls (82 percent of the opening audience was female; 79 percent was under 25).

And at TheWrap suggests — Hispanics:

Hispanics have accounted for at least 20 percent of opening weekend ticket sales for every hit this summer, Nielsen research shows

Hollywood experts love to fret about the future of the movie business, but the industry has begun to embrace one group that is indisputably on the rise: the Hispanic audience.

Hispanics are the fastest-growing ethnic group in the United States, and their passion for movies is unsurpassed. The group bought 25 percent of the tickets sold in 2013 though they comprise just 17 percent of the population, according to the Motion Picture Association of America’s year-end study.

According to figures from the U.S. Census and a Nielsen report on movie audiences, Hispanics make up 15 percent of the population over the age of 12, and 19 percent of tickets sold for teens and older.

The expanding potential of women and Hispanics versus the same old same old obsession with young adult males who for whatever reasons are not as reliable as before.

What will the studios do? What should screenwriters do?

For rest of the TheWrap article, go here.

For the rest of the Hollywood Reporter article, go here.

For the rest of the Flavorwire article, go here.


‘Transformers’: The Anatomy of a Cross-Platform Money Maker

July 10th, 2014 by

This Variety article is a few weeks old, but now that Transformers: Age of Extinction has generated a whopping $597M in box office revenues worldwide in just 11 days and in the process become the highest-grossing movie ever in China, let’s take a gander at this particular cinematic phenomenon:

Transformers: Age of Extinction” barrels into multiplexes June 27, hell-bent on global domination. With a pricetag north of $210 million after rebates, it’s one of the summer’s most expensive titles. But the action franchise is a cash cow for Paramount Pictures and Hasbro, with its armies of Decepticons and Autobots selling billions of dollars’ worth of movie tickets, DVDs, toys and videogames. The franchise’s worldwide success also demonstrates the increasingly global nature of the movie business. For “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” the most recent installment, China contributed a whopping $168.2 million to the bottom line. Philippe Dauman, head of Paramount parent Viacom, has already predicted part four will smash box office records. The new film keeps Michael Bay behind the camera, but trades up in star power, replacing Shia LaBeouf with Mark Wahlberg, with the hopes of kick-starting a new trilogy. Here’s a breakdown of all the ways money is being minted off of Optimus Prime and pals.

Here are some numbers for the four Transformers movies and their ancillary revenue:

Merchandising: $7B

Movies: $2.6B

Home Entertainment: $740M

Theme Parks: 50K riders per day

Actually it’s kind of a joke to refer to merchandising, home entertainment and theme park rides as “ancillary” revenue when combined, they amount to 3-4 times more income than what the movies generate at the box office.

And that explains why Hollywood is so obsessed with these type of franchise movies. If they work, they work really well, if not with critics, then in a big way with consumers and their dollars. Plus unless the filmmakers completely screw up, each sequel is virtually guaranteed to earn back at least 75%  and often more than 100% of what the previous movie earned. And then there is this fact: 10 years down the road, the studio can reboot the entire franchise, or as with Sony remaking Spider-Man a mere 5 years after the original series ended.

So the next time you wander by the local multiplex theater and see that long line of young people waiting to see Transformers 6: Rage of Regurgitation, the numbers above will help you to understand why.

For the rest of the Variety article, go here.

Note: I’m pondering a post about whether the success of the Transformers franchise along with other big VFX-laden franchise movies is actually having an effect on the way screenwriters are approaching storytelling.

Christopher Nolan: Films of the Future Will Still Draw People to Theaters

July 9th, 2014 by

Christopher Nolan wrote a Wall Street Journal column published this week, focusing on the impact of technological changes, specifically the shift from film to digital:

Hungry for savings, studios are ditching film prints (under $600 each), while already bridling at the mere $80 per screen for digital drives. They want satellite distribution up and running within 10 years. Quentin Tarantino’s recent observation that digital projection is the “death of cinema” identifies this fork in the road: For a century, movies have been defined by the physical medium (even Dogme 95 insisted on 35mm film as the presentation format).

Savings will be trivial. The real prize the corporations see is the flexibility of a nonphysical medium.

As streams of data, movies would be thrown in with other endeavors under the reductive term “content,” jargon that pretends to elevate the creative, but actually trivializes differences of form that have been important to creators and audiences alike. “Content” can be ported across phones, watches, gas-station pumps or any other screen, and the idea would be that movie theaters should acknowledge their place as just another of these “platforms,” albeit with bigger screens and cupholders.

Depressing, right? But Nolan sees a larger, brighter picture:

This bleak future is the direction the industry is pointed in, but even if it arrives it will not last. Once movies can no longer be defined by technology, you unmask powerful fundamentals—the timelessness, the otherworldliness, the shared experience of these narratives. We moan about intrusive moviegoers, but most of us feel a pang of disappointment when we find ourselves in an empty theater.

The audience experience is distinct from home entertainment, but not so much that people seek it out for its own sake. The experience must distinguish itself in other ways. And it will. The public will lay down their money to those studios, theaters and filmmakers who value the theatrical experience and create a new distinction from home entertainment that will enthrall—just as movies fought back with widescreen and multitrack sound when television first nipped at its heels.

You should read the whole article because Nolan goes on about the future of cinema depending “not just on grander presentation, but on the emergence of filmmakers inventive enough to command the focused attention of a crowd for hours.” Thus ultimately the presumed rise of the theatrical movie experience will emerge from the synthesis of technology and creativity.

Interestingly, Nolan never once mentions the word “story,” however he does talk about “powerful fundamentals—the timelessness, the otherworldliness, the shared experience of these narratives.”

Which leads to a fundamental question about technological ‘progress’: Will storytelling itself change? Or will the longstanding practices of storytellers, narrative principles and instincts seemingly rooted in the universal human experience, continue pretty much as they have throughout the centuries? Should storytelling change? If so, how?

Right now, one could say with safety that at the studio level, Story is largely in service to Technology, particularly when expensive blockbusters filled with eye-candy and “quasi-experimental” narratives which are more “like writing a Cirque du Soleil show” generate record revenues. But there are filmmakers, Nolan among them, who do bring an affection for and interest in what one may call ‘traditional storytelling’ to big budget projects replete with technological requirements.

This is one reason why I find the Pixar phenomenon so fascinating because the technological advances they themselves have helped to usher in on the 3D animation side of things have almost always been in service to Story, and that has proved to be one major key to their success: Every single one of their movies has debuted at #1 and gone on to make money while most garner tremendous critical praise. Why? In large part, good stories.

As I sit here pondering these thoughts, I know this: Sitting in a dark movie theater accompanied by a group of strangers, the collective experience of a Story unfolding on screen, as I have done literally thousands of times in my life, is akin to a religious experience. Scoff if you will, but some of the most powerful moments in my life have occurred losing myself in a movie, its characters, its story universe. I can only hope Nolan is right and that what we will see in the future is an opportunity for deeper, richer emotional and intellectual immersions in the most unique form of storytelling I know: Cinema.

Final thought: As writers, we can’t control technology. We can’t control studios and their business decisions. But we can control what we write… and equally important, what we choose to write. That’s how we can participate in the emergence of what movies will become.

For the rest of the WSJ article, go here.

What are your thoughts about Nolan’s column? Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future of movies? How important are movies to you?

Update: Gender as represented in spec script sales

July 8th, 2014 by

Last year, I posted this:

Recently we have seen quite a few studies and analysis pointing out gender inequity in the entertainment business including independent films, television, even the theater. Now we can add spec scripts to the mix.

The post included an infographic of spec script sales by gender from 1991-2012, based on the database of deals aggregated and archived on this site here.

The numbers showed that during the last two decades, only 1 out of 8 spec scripts that sold were written by a woman. We updated the numbers to include 2013 results and here is that infographic:

Gender-in-Spec-Sales 2013

Just 12 of 132 spec scripts sales involved women writers in 2013, continuing a trend for the last three years whereby only 9% of spec scripts that sold were written by females.

Thus the questions persist: What is the deal here? Does this mean there are fewer women interested in screenwriting? For example, only 28.6% of applicants for the 2013 Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting were women, but women writers involved in only one out of eight spec script sales translates to 13%. And if the trend noted above is correct, the numbers are actually going down.

Is this situation systemic? If so, what can be done about it? What are your thoughts on the matter?

Many thanks to Susana Orozco for taking the time and effort to aggregate the data for last year, and Kate Hagen for reviewing the 2013 sales to provide this year’s updated information.

Note: It is impossible to track every single spec spec transaction. The numbers here are based on the best information available.

The state of Hollywood comedies

July 8th, 2014 by

A trio of news articles in the last few days that present a seemingly confusing portrait of the state of comedy movies in Hollywood nowadays. However if we drill down into the news, things start to clear up. First, this from The Street:

Laughter may be the best medicine and once upon a time, comedies were the cure for everything.

With an innate ability to provide happiness and tears in seconds, the comedic film was an affordable and effective remedy that could cure even the surliest of moods. But unfortunately, that is no longer the case. Major Hollywood studios, i.e. Paramount (VIAB_) and Warner Bro. Entertainment (TWX_) have been turning their backs on comedies in pursuit of the genre’s more lucrative siblings.

According to data compiled by Nomura, the rate at which Hollywood’s biggest studios have been churning out comedies has been on a steady decline since 2010.

The article goes on to note: “Nomura declares ‘animated films have been the most profitable genre since 2004, making a global average of $235 million per film’”. The fact that most animated movies are comedies muddies the waters. But the numbers don’t lie. Here is a chart based on that Nomura data:

A recent Quartz article suggests the following:

Blame it on (or thank, if you prefer) the globalization of box office returns.

While fewer Americans are going to the movies, it is a totally different story in many other parts of the world, where cinema is booming. Non-US moviegoers accounted for about 70% of global box office receipts last year (which hit $35.9 billion) compared to about 63% in 2007. Emerging economies are responsible for most of that growth, and there is plenty of room for more, because there are significantly fewer cinema screens per capita and lower ticket prices in these countries than in the US.

But the emerging world enthusiasm for Hollywood films does not extend to comedies, or at least not relative to its love of action movies and animated films. In China, for example, US comedies account for only 10% of box office spending, compared to 25% in the US, Nomura says. By contrast, Hollywood action films are 44% of the box office in China (the latest Transformers release has broken just about every box office record in the country) as against 36% in the US.

And yet, people do like to laugh. So the studios are responding as one would expect them to: Cutting comedy budgets. From TheWrap:

The cost of a laugh is declining in Hollywood.

Movie studios have been making comedies on the cheap this summer, a strategy that has paid off with hits like “Neighbors,” “Ride Along” and most recently “Tammy.” Each of those cost less than $30 million to produce and paid off. The first two more than quintupled their budget at the box office.

As for the third, “Tammy” did not win its opening weekend or receive strong reviews, but its $33 million haul over the July 4 holiday was more than enough for New Line, which produced the film for $20 million, to see its way to profit.

Two things. I’ve been pushing the idea for some time that budget should be one consideration when choosing a story concept for a spec script, not only comedies, but all genres. If you’re writing a script that will cost $75M or $100M+, there are only a handful of potential buyers – the major studios. And as we have seen, they have little interest in mid-range budget movies [$50M] nowadays. But if you write a $20M and under movie, there are a bunch of financiers and production companies to whom your reps can send your script. This means not only more chances for a sale, but also greater exposure for you as a writer.

The second thing is also something I’ve been promoting for several years: Now is a great time for the Action-Comedy cross-genre. Dialogue-driven comedy may not translate as well in the international market, but visually-driven humor can transcend cultural confines. Let’s face it: Somebody slipping on a banana peel and falling on their ass is pretty much funny around the world. Consider the worldwide B.O. success of 22 Jump Street [$228M] and The Heat [$229M]. I’d even include Neighbors [$248M] and This is the End [$126M], not action-comedies per se, but lots of physical humor. Each of these four movies was produced on the cheap ranging from $18M (This is the End) to $50M (22 Jump Street), the latter a bump up from the original’s $41M budget, the extra dollars justified for a sequel to a hit movie.

So what is the state of comedy movies in Hollywood today? We saw the downturn in numbers a few years back when Comedy, which for decades was #1 in terms of spec script sales, was dethroned by Action and Thriller. The slowdown in theaters today for the genre is a reflection of studio decisions from two-three years ago. Given the continuing growth and importance of the international market, this trend will likely continue. However strong high concept comedies… lower budget… with lots of visual humor… especially action-comedies… well-written and, of course, funny… my guess is Hollywood will always be in the market for that kind of spec script.

For the Quartz article, go here.

For The Street article, go here.

For TheWrap article, go here.

The ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ Ending You Didn’t See (And Why You Saw The One That You Did)

July 7th, 2014 by

I recently posted this in which I analyzed Edge of Tomorrow which is one of my favorite science fiction movies in recent years. So it was with interest I read a Film School Rejects article about the movie featuring comments from screenwriter Christopher MacQuarrie.

SPOILER ALERT! If you haven’t seen the movie and don’t want to know about the ending, do not pass Go, do not collect $200. You have been forewarned!


“Why Disney Can Risk Rian Johnson Helming a ‘Star Wars’ Film”

June 27th, 2014 by

By now, I’m pretty sure you’ve heard this news:

Rian Johnson’s dive into science fiction with 2012′s Looper will serve him well on a much bigger project, as the director will take on Episode VIII of the upcoming Star Wars series.

Initial reports had also attached Johnson to direct Episode IX, though it was later confirmed that he would only write the treatment to that film, according to the Hollywood Reporter. Rather than giving a statement, Johnson tweeted a scene from the outer space classic The Right Stuff in which Scott Glenn, as astronaut Alan Shepard, says, “Dear Lord, please don’t let me fuck up.”

Since the Big Announcement, lots of folks have been analyzing the move:

Guardian: Could Rian Johnson Be the Most Radical Star Wars Director So Far.

L.A. Times: Expect Rian Johnson to Push Star Wars in Unexpected Directions.

Vulture: Everything You Need to Know About Rian Johnson.

Atlantic provided some broader movie business context in this article:

By enlisting relatively obscure directors and spinning off cult characters, the studio is taking a Marvel-style approach to the galaxy far, far away.

Johnson is beloved by internet geeks. He combines bold thinking (Brick was a film noir set in a Californian school) with action (Looper featured a time-traveling assassin played by Bruce Willis on a quest to murder a small child). He is just the sort of person that everyone on the internet says should direct a Star Wars film but who doesn’t usually get the chance.

By hiring talented but untested directors and taking some creative risks, Marvel set out to create individual franchises set in the same world, just as in the comics. In this way, audiences have bought into individual characters like Iron Man and Captain America, and each exists as its own money-spinning franchise against the backdrop of a larger universe. Fans are buying into a character’s journey, rather than a Marvel sequel. And stories that unite the universe, such as The Avengers, become must-see global blockbusters that bring together these different fan-bases once every few years. The Marvel method has upended the blockbuster formula, which, ironically, was created by the original Star Wars film in 1977.

Will Disney be able to do the same with Star Wars, credibly expanding the universe beyond the story of the Skywalkers?

Can’t answer the last question, but I can say this: Johnson is a fantastic choice. Brick is wonderful. The Brothers Bloom is underrated. And Looper is fantastic. Johnson is a talented writer-director with a unique voice and a sophisticated visual sensibility. Check out the trailer for Brick:

And here is an interview with the man himself:

So kudos to Disney. They could have played it safe with a bigger name, but Rian Johnson is a bold and exciting choice.

Rian, may the Force be with you!

What are the 36 Most Expensive Movies Ever Made?

June 26th, 2014 by

Via Rope of Silicon:

Business Insider has posted a list of the 30 most expense movies ever made (plus a few additions/corrections from me), using data from IMDB and Box Office Mojo as well as adjusting for inflation. Here goes:

  1. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007) – $341.8 million
  2. Cleopatra (1963) – $339.5 million (Original estimated budget: $44 million)
  3. Titanic (1997) – $294.3 million
  4. Spider-Man 3 (2007) – $293.9 million
  5. Tangled (2010) – $281.7 million
  6. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009) – $275.3 million
  7. Waterworld (1995) – $271.3 million
  8. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006) – $263.7 million
  9. Avatar (2009) – $261 million
  10. The Hobbit (2012) – $257.2 million
  11. The Dark Knight Rises (2012) – $257.2 million
  12. John Carter (2012) – $257.2 million
  13. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003) – $256.8 million
  14. King Kong (2005) – $250.4 million
  15. Spider-Man 2 (2004) – $250.1 million
  16. The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (2008) – $246.9 million
  17. X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) – $246.1 million
  18. Superman Returns (2009) – $244.9 million
  19. Wild Wild West (1999) – $241.1 million
  20. Speed 2: Cruise Control (1997) – $237.16 million
  21. The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) – $236.7 million
  22. Men in Black III (2012) – $231.5 million
  23. Man of Steel (2013) – $228.2 million
  24. The Avengers (2012) – $226.4 million
  25. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009) – $220.2 million
  26. Terminator Salvation (2009) – $220.2 million
  27. 2012 (2009) – $220.2 million
  28. Quantum of Solace (2008) – $219.4 million
  29. Troy (2004) – $218.9 million
  30. Toy Story 3 (2010) – $218.2 million
  31. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010) – $218.2 million
  32. Iron Man 2 (2010) – $218.2 million
  33. Robin Hood (2010) – $218.2 million
  34. Alice in Wonderland (2010) – $218.2 million
  35. Oz the Great and Powerful (2013) – $218 million
  36. The Lone Ranger (2013) – $218 million

Perhaps the most startling fact:

It’s for these reasons we talk about budgets and box office. It’s out of control nowadays and other than about four films before 2003, 26 of those films are from the last ten years… and that’s adjusting for inflation [emphasis added].

We can sit here all day and cry out this business model is not sustainable. Even luminaries like Spielberg and Lucas can publicly proclaim “there’s eventually going to be an implosion.”

Maybe so. But with 23 superhero movies planned for release in the next 4 years, there suits aren’t buying that proposition. Hell, we could be looking back in 5 years time at this list which could have doubled in size and added another 25% on the top end for budgets.

What can we do? (1) Wait for the international market to wise up to this game the major studios are playing and stop paying to see mediocre to lousy big budget spectacles. (2) Promote quality financier funded movies and independent films. (3) Support quality big budget movies with solid stories and well-written characters.

For the rest of the article, go here.

“The Smartest Sci-Fi Films Are Low-Budget Ones”

June 23rd, 2014 by

BuzzFeed ran an article last week featuring two new science fiction movies: Coherence and The Signal.

Giant interstellar shoot-outs and outlandish alien races are great and all, but science fiction is a genre that can benefit from limitations as much as it can big-budget space operatics. It’s built on ideas, which means that with enough ingenuity, a smaller movie can do its own world-building by exploring a concept and how it affects people. Large-scope sci-fi may be big for the summer box office, but there’s also a long tradition of scrappier films exploring time or space travel, dark futures, and new technology, all by way of how it affects a small group of characters, an approach that can be just as mind-bending without the visual effects. When you can’t depend on simply showing how crazy a sci-fi phenomenon looks, for instance, you’re forced to concentrate more on what the experience of dealing with it is like, and those tropes can serve as a metaphor for experiences that are closer to home for the audience.

That’s the case for Coherence, an inventive indie written and directed by James Ward Byrkit that opens in New York and Los Angeles this Friday and expands to more cities in the weeks after. Coherence is the story of a dinner party in which eight friends with long and sometimes fraught histories gather to play catch-up while a comet passes overhead. When the power goes out, they notice there’s a house two blocks away that remains lit, and a few of the guests venture out to see if they can use the phone. When they come back, one of them’s bleeding and upset by what he saw, and the other is carrying a mysterious box he stole that turns out to be inexplicably filled with photos of everyone at the party.

The flashier fellow indie The Signal, which opened in theaters last week, also combines a drama about relationships with a sci-fi mystery, though the more it delves into the latter, the less interesting it actually becomes. Directed by William Eubank, The Signal starts in the company of a trio of brainy tech types — friends Nic (Oculus’ Brenton Thwaites) and Jonah (Beau Knapp), who are driving Nic’s girlfriend, the “CalTech turncoat” Haley (Olivia Cooke), to school. As they road-trip through some gorgeously photographed middle American landscapes, Nic and Jonah feud with a hacker who goes by the handle “Nomad.” Nic is dealing with a degenerative disease that has him using crutches, and he’s pulling away from Haley, the prospect of a long-distance relationship and his progressive illness causing him to try to sabotage their bond.

There are plenty of smart low-budget science fiction films that come to mind: Mad Max, Primer, The Terminator, Pi and Moon to name a few. I don’t think there’s any necessary correlation between big budgets and dumbed down movies, although I’m sure we could all name more than a few spectacle sci fi flicks that just don’t measure up in any sort of intellectually satisfying way. So are the smartest sci-fi films low-budget ones? Smells like hyperbole to me.

However allow me to put a spin on the title of BuzzFeed’s article: How a screenwriter interested in the science fiction genre would be smart to conjure up at least some low-budget story concepts.


Because it’s easier to get you noticed… and get them made.

That whole area of ‘world-building’ wherein the writer has to create a visual context far different than contemporary Earth is not only a cause for inflated budgets (think: Computer Generated Imagery), it also elevates the discomfort of Hollywood suits. An action movie is an action movie. A thriller is a thriller. Those are in the realm of a typical development executive’s life experience. But a science fiction film is, I believe, more of a challenge to them. It feels alien, strange and big. Those may be helpful elements for a movie marketing campaign, but for script development? Quite a challenge to get the story right.

In my view, that’s why the studios keep relying on a select group of writers who have a proven track record with science fiction projects (e.g., Spaihts, Lindelof, Kinberg, etc).

So here comes New Writer A with a $150M science fiction spec script. And here’s New Writer B with a $5M science fiction spec script. Put on your producer’s hat: If both screenplays are written equally well and both have obvious commercial viability, which writer would you feel most comfortable with?

Besides a $150M spec can only go to a handful of buyers: The major studios. Whereas a $5-20M spec can go to dozens of financiers and independent production companies.

You love science fiction? Great. Hollywood happens to love the genre now as well. But you’d probably be wise not only to come up with a smart story concept, but also one that is low-budget.

Get your foot in the door, prove you can write the genre, then maybe some day, you’ll be this guy working on some seriously big budget sci fi films.

For the rest of the BuzzFeed article, go here.