Some thoughts on the HBO Max day-and-date streaming releases during the pandemic

Earlier today Keith Calder asked a intriguing question about the Warner Bros. announcement to release their upcoming slate on HBO Max date-and-date with movie theaters.

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So let’s give it a whirl then, shall we?

Warner Bros. is a primarily a distribution company and to some extent acts like a bank. 

Generally most of their contracts are written to protect themselves and their financial interests at the highest end, not the interests of the producers or production companies that work for them. 

Usually they’re acquiring content from production companies and the acquisition doesn’t tie them down to particular release patterns, marketing dollars, or other preconditions. Producers can consult on some of the decisions, but usually the studio is going to do what it wants.

This is done, in part, because it’s in everyone’s general interest that the picture makes the maximum amount of money. Usually the studio is putting (at least some of) their own money up in advance, so it doesn’t behoove them not to maximize their return.

Production companies, directors, writers, and actors all rely on them having skin in the game. In this case, they’re the ones left physically holding the bag.

With this move, the studio is covering its (and everyone else’s) best interest by attempting to recoup as much as they can. Since they control the release from top to bottom on their own platform all the money goes into their own pockets instead of giving a sliding percentage of it away to so many of the popcorn and carbonated sugar syrup grocery stores that masquerade as movie theaters these days. 

One also needs to keep in mind that it’s quite common for talent contracts to fester for long after the start of principal photography and some never get to the point of receiving wet signatures. I’ve seen dozens of contracts get wet signatures long after their films’ theatrical releases.

So it’s entirely possible that they could be waiting until now to drop the bomb. But what is the talent going to do? They’re not going to fail to show up and support their work, that’s for sure. Everyone knows the business is in the hole and not coming back any time soon.

The finance costs of some of these movies would completely eat the studios alive if they don’t do something. What else can they do? The best they can. Grin, bear it, and keep the gears turning.

And let’s not forget about the total turkeys which can be illustrative. There are many movies that get made and acquired and don’t get a release at all. Sometimes the studio makes the determination that it’s in their interest to sit on a film and never release it because the cost of prints and advertising is just too great.

Here’s a great example. Do you remember the 2000 blockbuster hit The Third Wheel starring Ben Affleck and Luke Wilson?

What?! Never heard of it? Affleck shot it between Reindeer Games and Bounce while starting talks for doing Pearl Harbor for Bruckheimer at Disney.

His star was on the rise after Good Will Hunting and Armageddon and it was generally obvious to Mirimax and the producers (which included Matt Damon and Ben Affleck), that an incredibly mediocre film starring him might potentially end his career or the pairs’ producing careers.

So, what the heck? We only spent a few million on it, so we’ll eat the cost of production and maybe release it in a handful of foreign territories in a cheap dub a few years down the road and no harm, no foul. Right?

But what about all the other crappy movies that come out and tank at the box office? It’s often not until your film has had a test audience screening that the studio truly slots its release date. Any dates prior to that are just flexing to scare the competition. 

After a test screening, the last thing you want to hear is that it’s coming out in late August or February. Studios don’t release movies in those time periods—they escape! Those slots are the kiss-of-death because no one goes to the movies then.

The studio knows that but generally needs to recoup some money. Typically they’re also paying interest on production loans or bridge financing which they can’t sit on forever.

So in an effort to clear the books, they push the movie out with the least amount of P&A so that they can begin bundling their films into all the follow up release windows in hopes that those will at least cover their cost.

If there are law suits after-the-fact, they’ll likely be over the back end deal segments that provide bonuses for talent for box office performance. But guess what? Usually creative finance on the studio’s part is done to prevent these bonuses from being paid out in the first place.

And shame on the agents and attorneys of the talent for not adding in bonus payouts for performance of releases in each window segment of the pictures lifespan. You can bet those clauses will be baked into contracts going forward.

I’ve got some first look and producing deals as well as some acquisition paperwork kicking around the office here, but without looking through them, I’m pretty sure that there’s nothing in those contracts that requires the studio(s) to actually release anything.

Of course it only hurts the studio to buy material and just sit on it, so can you fault them for doing the best they can? 

My guess is that with the givens, they’ll get a massive bump in (recurring–everyone’s favorite) subscription income and it will either mostly or completely cover a large part of the gap. And likely better for their part, it’s harder for talent to audit internal numbers and machinations within a studio to prove that the movie made it to profit levels necessary to pay off points on the back end.

If there is a contractual obligation lurking around somewhere, they’ve always got a force majeure clause in there somewhere that would certainly cover the issues they’re living with.

Some of the more interesting questions relate to the studios’ relationships with exhibitors which generally aren’t owned by them. That may be a slightly harder question, but what are theater owners really going to do? They can’t guarantee the box office turn out that they might have before, and a poor box office turn out is more likely to do irreparable damage to a film’s release in all the subsequent windows. 

Generally with a sliding scale of box office receipts going to the exhibitors, they’re really in the business of selling popcorn which is where they make all their profits, but as we all know, that’s not doing very well for them right now either.

It’s actually more likely in the studio’s interest to pull their films. Their smaller budget releases in January and February are far more likely to overperform by being released during the pandemic to audiences who can pay a premium for them and who may feel a dearth of new entertainment options.

Meanwhile all the parents who couldn’t afford the $100+ for the babysitter and incidentals are likely to appreciate their HBO Max subscription all the more.

But wait! There’s more! I’ve completely buried the lede! Peter Kafka alludes to it in his interview with WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar earlier today, but I suspect he is completely unaware of it. (This is likely why Vox gets the interview in a soft presser and not a senior legal journalist with The Hollywood Reporter or Variety.) For the careful viewers at home, let’s not forget that the 1948 Paramount Consent Decree died quietly earlier in August this year. This essentially makes it much easier for studios to become vertically integrated again. The studios can now own the entirety of the finance, production, distribution, and exhibition chain like they could in the “Golden Era” of Hollywood. If you want to ask questions about something, this is the area to focus on! 

Give it another couple of years and studios will eventually own talent agencies again… Who’s going to be the next Lew Wasserman?

If only we had a President who was also in the entertainment business who could monkey around with this arrangement the way Reagan did…

This post was originally published on Chris Aldrich

Hopkins in Hollywood | Johns Hopkins Alumni Event on 1-12-17

Hopkins in Hollywood | Johns Hopkins Alumni Event on 1-12-17

I’ve been invited to participate in a panel discussion as part of an Intersession course by the Johns Hopkins Film and Media Studies Program. I hope fellow alumni in the entertainment and media sectors will come out and join us in Culver City on Thursday.


Join the Hopkins in Hollywood Affinity Group (AEME LA) as they welcome Linda DeLibero, Director of the JHU Film and Media Studies Program, and current students of the program for a dynamic evening of networking which features an alumni panel of industry experts.
Open to alumni, students, and friends of Hopkins, this event is sponsored by Donald Kurz (A&S ’77), Johns Hopkins University Emeritus Trustee and School of Arts and Sciences Advisory Board Member, and the Hopkins in Hollywood (AEME LA) Affinity Group.
Event Date: Thursday, January 12, 2017
Start Time: 6:30pm
End Time: 8:30pm

Panelists

Donald Kurz, A&S ’77
Moderator

Donald Kurz is Chairman and CEO of Omelet LLC, an innovative new media and marketing services firm based in Los Angeles.   Previously, Mr. Kurz was co-founder and CEO of hedge fund Artemis Capital Partners.  Between 1990 and 2005, Mr. Kurz was Chairman, President, and CEO of EMAK Worldwide, Inc, a global, NASDAQ-traded company providing Fortune 500 companies with strategic and marketing services internationally. Mr. Kurz’s 25 years’ experience in senior leadership includes management positions with Willis Towers Watson, PwC, and the J.C. Penney Company. Mr. Kurz is a Trustee Emeritus of the Johns Hopkins University, having served for 12 years on the Hopkins board.  He received an MBA from the Columbia University Graduate School of Business and a BA from Johns Hopkins University.

J Altman

Jason Altman, A&S ’99

Jason Altman is an Executive Producer at Activision working on the Skylanders franchise and new development projects.  Prior to Activision, he spent the past 5 years at Ubisoft Paris in different leadership roles, most recently as the Executive Producer of Just Dance, the music video game franchise.  He is a veteran game producer who loves the industry, and is a proud graduate of the media studies program at Johns Hopkins.

Boardman

Paul Harris Boardman, A&S ’89

Paul Boardman wrote The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005) and Devil’s Knot (2014), both of which he also produced, and Deliver Us From Evil (2014), which he also executive produced.  In 2008, Paul produced The Day the Earth Stood Still for Fox, and he did production rewrites on Poltergeist, Scream 4, The Messengers, and Dracula 2000, as well as writing and directing the second unit for Hellraiser:  Inferno (2000) and writing Urban Legends:  Final Cut (2000).  Paul has written screenplays for various studios and production companies, including Trimark, TriStar, Phoenix Pictures, Miramax/Dimension, Disney, Bruckheimer Films, IEG, APG, Sony, Lakeshore, Screen Gems, Universal and MGM.

D Chivvis

Devon Chivvis, A&S ’96

Devon Chivvis is a showrunner/director/producer of narrative and non-fiction television and film. Inspired by a life-long passion for visual storytelling combined with a love of adventure and the exploration of other cultures, Devon has made travel a priority through her work in film and television. Devon holds a B.A. from Johns Hopkins University in International Relations and French, with a minor in Italian.

Chris Aldrich

Chris Aldrich, Engr ’96

Chris started his career at Hopkins while running several movie groups on campus and was responsible for over $200,000 of renovations in Shriver Hall including installing a new screen, sound system, and 35mm projection while also running the 29th Annual Milton S. Eisenhower Symposium “Framing Society: A Century of Cinema” on the 100th anniversary of the moving picture.
Following Hopkins he joined Creative Artists Agency where he worked in Motion Picture Talent and also did work in music-crossover. He later joined Davis Entertainment with a deal at 20th Century Fox where he worked on the productions of Heartbreakers, Dr. Dolittle 2, Behind Enemy Lines as well as acquisition and development of Alien v. Predator, Paycheck, Flight of the Phoenix, Garfield, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., I, Robot and countless others.
Missing the faster pace of representation, he later joined Writers & Artists Agency for several years working in their talent, literary, and book departments. Since that time he’s had his own management company focusing on actors, writers, authors, and directors. Last year he started Boffo Socko Books, an independent publishing company and recently put out the book Amerikan Krazy.

Source: Hopkins in Hollywood | Johns Hopkins Alumni

 

Register Here

More information Office of Alumni Relations
800-JHU-JHU1 (548-5481)
alumevents@jhu.edu

Part of the course:

The Entertainment Industry in Contemporary Hollywood

Students will have the opportunity to spend one week in Los Angeles with Film and Media Studies Director Linda DeLibero. Students will meet and network with JHU alums in the entertainment industry, as well as heads of studios and talent agencies, screenwriters, directors, producers, and various other individuals in film and television. Associated fee with this intersession course is $1400 (financial support is available for those who qualify). Permission of Linda DeLibero is required. Film and Media Studies seniors and juniors will be given preference for the eight available slots, followed by senior minors.Students are expected to arrive in Los Angeles on January 8. The actual course runs January 9-13 with lodging check-in on January 8 and check-out on January 14.

Course Number: AS.061.377.60
Credits: 1
Distribution: H
Days:  Monday 1/9/2017 – Friday 1/13/2017
Times:  M – TBA | Tu- TBA | W- TBA | Th- TBA | F- TBA
Instructor: Linda DeLibero

Hopkins in Hollywood | Johns Hopkins Alumni Event on 1-12-17 was originally published on Chris Aldrich

Attack of the Killer Donald Trump: A Zombie Movie?!

Attack of the Killer Donald Trump: A Zombie Movie?!
There is a multi-lingual low-budget movie shooting across the street from me in which Trump is terrorizing some Spanish speaking gardeners!

It doesn’t appear to be a comedy and Trump is grumbling as if he’s a Zombie!

There were some more-than-steamy scenes (shot behind the neighbors’ bushes) which are NSFW, so they won’t appear here.

I won’t spoil the ending, but the last shot I saw involved the cinematographer lying on the ground shooting up at a gardner with a shovel standing over him menacingly.

Click below for some of the video I shot.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BJljlV3j8W9/embed/

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Photo taken in: Glendale, California

Attack of the Killer Donald Trump: A Zombie Movie?! was originally published on Chris Aldrich

Caleb Deschanel shooting FRATRICIDE starring Richard Macksey

Caleb Deschanel shooting FRATRICIDE starring Richard Macksey

Caleb Deschanel shooting FRATRICIDE starring Richard Macksey. This may likely have been his first DP job circa '66 @johnshopkinsu. Photo courtesy of our friend @henryjameskorn. #tbt #amerikankrazy #cinematography #studentfilm
Caleb Deschanel on the set of Fratricide. This may likely have been his first DP job circa ’66 while a student at Johns Hopkins. Photo courtesy of our friend Henry James Korn.

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Photo taken at: Johns Hopkins University

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Caleb Deschanel shooting FRATRICIDE starring Richard Macksey was originally published on Chris Aldrich | Boffo Socko

Bucket List: Write A Joke for Robin Williams

Bucket List: Write A Joke for Robin Williams

In all the sadness of the passing of Robin Williams, I nearly forgot I’d “written” a short joke for him just after I’d first moved to Hollywood.

Killing some time just before I started work at Creative Artists Agency, I finagled my way into a rough-cut screening of Robin William’s iconoclastic role in PATCH ADAMS on the Universal Lot. Following the screening, I had the pleasure of chatting with [read: bum-rushed like a crazy fan] Tom Shadyac for a few minutes on the way out. I told him as a recent grad of Johns Hopkins University and having spent a LOT of time in hospitals, that they were missing their obligatory hospital gown joke. But to give it a karate chop (and because I’d just graduated relatively recently), they should put it into the graduation at the “end” and close on a high note.

I didn’t see or hear anything about it until many months later when I went to Mann’s Chinese Theater for the premiere and saw the final cut of the ending of the film, which I’ve clipped below. Just for today, I’m wearing the same red foam clown nose that I wore to the premiere that night.

Thanks for the laughs Robin.

Bucket List:
#1. Write a joke for Robin Williams.

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Bucket List: Write A Joke for Robin Williams was originally published on Chris Aldrich