Spreading the Box-Office Bounty


We are looking at another opportunity to have a record-breaking year at the box office in 2013. Despite the summer, when there were a handful of films that flopped, overall business has been booming. But are we facing the same problem of too many films in the market where some are bound to get lost in the shuffle.

It’s only a few months since the summer. That should have been plenty of time for the studios to learn that with such a glut of movies, some are going to fail. So the real question is: Why does it continue to happen? The executives running the studios are smart, so the answer must be that their hands are tied and powerful producers and/or directors are able to negotiate terms that allow them to pick release dates. If this is truly the case, the system needs to change, as it has been proven time and again that good films will garner good box office any time of the year they are distributed.

Films need some breathing room to flourish at the box office. Just recently it was announced that two major titles from Sony and Paramount—Monuments Men and Jack Ryan—have been shifted to an early 2014 release. Even with this move, there is still a major traffic jam for the holiday fare. Fortunately, two films opened before the holidays and are huge hits to get the season off to a record pace—Thor: The Dark World and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.

Starting on Dec. 13 with the release of Warner Bros.’ The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, the second chapter of Peter Jackson’s trilogy, there will be a total of 12 wide releases before year’s end. Five days later on Dec. 18, Disney goes wide with Saving Mr. Banks, Sony expands David O. Russell’s star-filled American Hustle, and CBS Films does the same with its Coen Brothers’ folk-music movie, Inside Llewyn Davis. And on Dec. 20 comes another sure hit, Paramount’s Anchorman: The Legend Continues.

Again, only five days later, Christmas Day, Paramount releases the Martin Scorsese-directed drama The Wolf of Wall Street, Fox rolls out Ben Stiller’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Warner Bros. opens the Stallone/De Niro boxing comedy Grudge Match and Universal debuts its Keanu Reeves’ thriller 47 Ronin.

Amazingly, there’s still more to come in 2013 with the Justin Bieber concert documentary Believe opening nationwide on Christmas Day, the Meryl Streep/Julia Roberts comedy-drama August: Osage County going into limited release, and Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom expanding nationwide.

Certainly, one can look at this slate and pick the one or two films that are sure bets. But some of the others are going to get lost in the crowd. And that is a shame, because released at another time they could turn out to be moderately successful.

The betting money is that the Christmas season has the potential to push the industry past last year’s total and break the domestic box-office record of $10.8 billion set in 2012. But just think: If the market were not so cluttered, the record could still be broken and there would be enough film to open in January and February that would set up 2014 with a great start.

This editor hopes to be around when a more orderly release pattern throughout the year becomes the norm. If egos could be checked at the door, this could be a reality a lot sooner than later.

A Satellite Breakthrough
This editor has always maintained that the pioneers in the movie industry would never be able to comprehend or believe all the new technologies in a typical theatre today.  Everything from digital sound to digital projection. “What do you mean you are going to show a feature without celluloid?” you might hear from one of these entrepreneurs that created this great industry. And now top it off that there will be no physical delivery of any kind, but that a movie will arrive by satellite. It’s not too far a stretch of the imagination.

The Digital Cinema Distribution Coalition, better known as DCDC, is a digital initiative founded by AMC, Regal and Cinemark alongside Warner Bros. and Universal. They have now flipped the switch on the industry’s first-ever digital theatrical delivery service, whereby films and other content will be delivered to theatres via satellite.

Joining the coalition are the other four major studios and Lionsgate, as well as Southern Theatres and National Amusements. Together they represent more than 17,000 screens. DCDC is a network of satellites capable of distributing features, live content and a pre-show via digital distribution technologies. Its implementation will eliminate the need for a large amount of physical discs that are still shipped to digital-capable theatres. DCDC plans to distribute 31 feature titles by the end of 2013.

Technology allows movie theatres to do things never imagined. But as different as the theatre is today, one must remember that without good movies people will not leave their homes and travel to their local cinema. Content is still king and always will be.

Saluting the Focus Team
And now another major player in the indie market has had its candle snuffed out. The Focus Features we knew is no more. The newly revamped company is now under the leadership of Peter Schlessel, formerly of FilmDistrict. Although most press stories covering this transition have focused on toppers James Schamus and Andrew Karpen, the comments of this editor will reflect on several individuals who were part of the team that sold and distributed the movies. Jack Foley and Linda Ditrinco were partners for many years and were the nuts and bolts of a well-organized machine, responsible for releasing some of the finest indie films ever.

Jack and Linda share a total of nearly 68 years of experience in the business. They are well-respected for what they do, but more important, they are well-liked. They have spent most of their working time in this industry and have been fabulously successful.  They have been intimately involved in distributing such films as Lost in Translation, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Milk, Coraline, The Pianist, Moonrise Kingdom and many more.

Their unaffected way of doing business has won them lots of praise from their peers as well as theatre owners. Their names are synonymous with professionalism, loyalty and truthfulness. We also applaud their team of Lenny Lee, James Donlon and Eric Carr. Best of luck to all of you in your next endeavors. And of course, good wishes to the new team under the leadership of Peter Schlessel.