Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Avatar markets high expectations.

Ever notice how many different versions of movie posters show up at your multiplex before a big event movie release? Have you noticed that teaser trailers, that first minute or so of film hyping a new movie with sometimes as little as an animated title over some booming dramatic music, can show up in theaters more than a year before the movie's actually scheduled to get there? Do you really have that long of an attention span?

Let's try to put things in perspective. The movie industry, right or wrong, lives and dies on opening weekend box-office numbers. Now let's say you have well upwards of $100 million wrapped up in production costs. You've also got a marketing budget that can support a small town for a year, committed to hyping this thing to blockbuster status by the time your calendar weekend arrives. Why not dribble out a little cash, early in the game to start planting seeds and build the most important four letter word in Hollywood - BUZZ? Suddenly 20 different character posters, the FaceBook fan page and the constant stream of Twitter updates not only make sense, they feel downright essential. If it were our money, we'd move the marketing department within visual range (and screaming distance) to be sure we were maximizing every shred of promotion possible.

And so today we welcome you to the beginning of the "big push" in the hottest hype campaign on the burners - Avatar. With an estimated production budget of $190,000,000.00, a director resurfacing after last having directed the number one box-office film of all time, Titanic (1.85 billion worldwide), and a film that boasts special technologies invented just so the film could get made, James Cameron's Avatar needs to succeed. A little extra flair, a little P.T. Barnum razzle-dazzle, a little flat out tease is certainly to be expected. The touch of originality and creativity that seems attached to the effort is much appreciated.

This Friday, a day of the week (particularly a summer week) usually dedicated to releasing a new round of movies, has this week been commandeered for the release of a new movie trailer! Avatar's first movie trailer will debut on Friday, August 21st, a day James Cameron and Twentieth Century Film Corporation are hoping will, from here forward, be known as "Avatar Day".

Along with the worldwide release of Avatar's first trailer, fans of the already heavily Comic Con hyped sci-fi epic were invited to register on the movie's official website for a chance to win free tickets to an "extended" preview screening that included 2D, 3D, Imax and (for the hardcore) Imax 3D screens around the world. The rush crashed the website (more convenient press release hype), recovered, and is about to reward the faithful with emails to let them know if they are among the specially chosen who will receive the privilege of being test marketed. Be assured, those who score tickets are thrilled at the chance to be crash test dummies. "Avatar Day" will also see the orchestrated unveiling of special "3D" lenticular one-sheet posters, Ubisoft's® Avatar video game trailer and Mattel's movie character action figures.

Avatar promises to be the last big event movie of 2009 and very well could become the talk of the movie industry for years to come. Cameron, who already has distinguished himself as a pioneer of both popular film innovation and technical moviemaking achievement, is set to write a new chapter in his contribution to the industry, both technically and creatively. His shadow may very well eclipse the achievements of even the likes of Spielberg and Lucas. A little extra hype seems not only like sound business but under Cameron's direction, damned entertaining.

You can get a little more information right now at Avatar's official website as well as lots of familiar places you visit on the net, but by Friday, expect the flood gates to open. On Saturday the countdown to the movie's December 18th release date will begin with launch minus "Avatar Day" plus 118. For many after Friday, it will be a more important than counting the shopping days to Christmas.

Avatar Day is sure to be the talk of the movie industry this weekend and for the first time, get ready for Hollywood to report trailer attendance the way they report ticket sales. Which brings us to the fact that there are actual full length feature films being released this weekend too. If you didn't score a preview Avatar ticket and you're consoling yourself by just catching the trailer on the net, you do have Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds to look forward to. Even with a mere 15 versions of posters in its marketing campaign, great advance reviews are likely to insure a number one spot at the box-office over the weekend. And of course, that's the whole point. Catch a weekend flick, catch the buzz for Avatar and have a great movie weekend.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Time travelers, space aliens and car salesmen - this weekend they're all scary.

It's the 14th of August and we're moving unhappily closer to the end of BlockBuster Summer '09. Aside from surprise hits like The Hangover, released at the beginning of June and approaching 400 million in worldwide box-office, and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen becoming the highest grossing film of the summer (as of last weekend - 395 million U.S. and another 425 million international), our feeling is that the summer slate was a disappointment.
After the promise of great action delivered with J.J. Abrams reboot of Star Trek, another Pixar gem with Up, and some expected results from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, there wasn't a lot to excite or surprise. There was however, much to dismiss. In our eyes the worst offenders of lackluster mediocrity included a flat out boring and story-less Terminator Salvation, the remake dud The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 and the ultimate in wasted talent, Michael Mann's mess of a gangster pic, Public Enemies which managed to make Christian Bale utterly forgettable and Johnny Depp, shooting off a tommy gun while charming his way through a bank robbery, a complete yawn. (Not to mention the movie's series of bank robberies that looked like carbon copies of each other, right down to sets and extras.)

But hey, a little good news, it's not over yet. Summer movies seem to be racing for final release spots. In just the last 8 days no less than twelve new films have or will be hitting theater screens. The math alone means that some of these won't find a local screen for many weeks , maybe never, but if you keep looking you may be rewarded with something a bit special, say the screening of an independent like (500) Days of Summer, that surprised with strong performances, a clever, witty script and a breath of fresh air to blow out the smell of a summer's worth of stale buttered popcorn.

Here's our quick take on the new films hitting the cineplex marquees for this weekend...

You might want to see...

District 9 - We're shocked, but this piece of low resolution sci-fi is getting some really great reviews. From "smart" and "inventive" to comparisons to War of the Worlds, the advance word has been buzzing loud enough that we've become intrigued. We included District 9 on our list of ice-cold movies this month, mostly due to the goofy bug aliens, but the heat being generated by critics may be enough to grab big audiences. It's only the second time this summer that a big action flick has grabbed pre-release raves, the first time being May's release of Star Trek. Not a bad omen.

The Goods, Live Hard, Sell Hard - Love Jeremy Piven as Ari Gold in HBO's Entourage? Like raucous and rank comedy? Can't stand seeing the summer end without another glimpse of Will Ferrell? Go. Most everyone hates it but the NYT's says brainless and funny. Yeah, it's a rip on Zemeckis' Used Cars from 1980, but who the hell remembers 1980?

The Time Traveler's Wife - from the best selling novel, if you've read it you've likely already got your mind made up. Not to mention there have been precious few movies for the literate and the romantic this season. We hate the casting but we like the book. The reviews are mixed but the competition doesn't give a hoot about this target demographic. And with such low expectations, there won't be lines.

Ponyo - Japanese animation master Hayao Miyazaki's new film hits the U.S. today through the courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. It's not a coincidence that it's Disney who brings Miyazaki's work to U.S. audiences, it's a deep rooted appreciation for the art of animation and these films are truly moving artwork. Ponyo is a take on the Hans Christian Anderson tale of The Little Mermaid (familiar Disney ground), but the uniqueness of Miyazaki's art and storytelling can often be riveting, though decidedly unusual and sometimes strange. If you've never experienced Miyazaki's work, are a fan of hand drawn animation or just a fan of storytelling through artistic expression, the experience can be singular and enlightening. It's also great entertainment.

That's as good as it gets. Here's what you should be skipping...

Bandslam - Vanessa Hudgens and company doing the 'tween idol thing, again. If you have kids who just have to go, this may be a good time to test out how they'll do managing for themselves for a few hours. Even if you're stuck waiting in the theater lobby you're probably way ahead of the game.

Post Grad - Alexis Bledel and Michael Keaton in a movie that should be on your list of Family Channel viewing options sometime next year. If you absolutely have to, rent it. If you really go see this, at least you'll be able to stretch out across the empty seats.

Spread - Ashton Kutcher in a non-movie. We can't even come up with reasons to see or skip this film. Kutcher's co-star is Anne Heche. Is anybody excited? No one in the film, other than Kutcher, has done anything else of note. If you want to see this in a theater, here's the only reason we can come up with. Go now because it will have disappeared inside of 10 days.

Taking Woodstock - The people who fondly recall Woodstock days have the festival's DVDs at home. The movie audience demographics that go see summer comedies think Country Joe and the Fish are a fiddle act in Nashville. Wait, the clincher - the "stars" of the movie are Demetri Martin and Emile Hirsch. Anne Heche must have already been filming Spread.

G.I. Joe is starting to look like a solid hold-over. Have a great weekend at the movies.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

With the death of John Hughes, more talent slips away.

As a writer and a director John Hughes made his presence known in Hollywood by combining a knack for knowing the audience he was writing for with an uncanny ability for conveying that understanding in a film frame. His staple became teen comedies but on closer look, his strengths swept far broader, creating and delivering character performances within his stories that rang with insightful humor and deep emotional connectivity to his audience. An audience fortunately left with a prolific legacy of movies which already haven taken their well deserved place in the history of modern film.

While Thursday left us once again reeling from a seemingly constant barrage of talent being taken from us far too soon, we had already been reminded that we have lost others who have lived full and influential lives. Just a day earlier had come news that novelist and Oscar-winning screenwriter Budd Schulberg had died at the age of 95. Mr. Schulberg wrote the novel The Harder They Fall which would become a Humphrey Bogart film classic in 1956 as well as one of our favorite screenplays, a film that delivered an unforgettable dramatic performance from Andy Griffith, 1957's A Face in the Crowd. He is most noted for his screenplay of On The Waterfront (1954), a film that garnered 8 Academy Awards including his own Oscar for Best Screenplay.

Looking over the list of John Hughes films and writing accomplishments is very much like browsing a shelf of our favorite comedy DVDs. No less than 18 titles in our collection carry John Hughes' name as writer or writer/director. What really strikes us is that these are the DVDs that have been watched over and over again. The kind that fill rainy days in summer and cold, grey, snowy nights in winter. Christmases here don't pass without Home Alone and Christmas Vacation and summers never get by without Uncle Buck and The Great Outdoors. Thanksgiving isn't complete without watching Steve Martin learning to love John Candy in Planes Trains and Automobiles.

To the family and friends of both of these movie legends, we extend our warmest wishes and a grateful thanks for the indelible memories they created.

John Hughes has provided so many perfect movie moments, we thought we'd leave it to you to decide your favorites, so here are just some of the posters from his films to help provide a spark.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Blake Snyder, a screenwriter's teacher.

In our office at writing is a daily endeavor and both the quality of what we write and the mechanics of what we write are under constant scrutiny. As the creator of our internet content, I look on our output as our identity, and constantly seek to stay fresh, relevant and well practiced in our craft. With every word we write, indeed with each day we live, we are telling stories. To those ends, I'm personally ever on the lookout to increase my awareness of new techniques, philosophies and approaches toward creating more effective and entertaining ways to put those stories in print.
While our posts and our website comment on the movie industry, its personalities, stars and products, my personal writing also includes writing for film and television production. This past June I attended a writer's pitch festival in Los Angeles and had the very good fortune to meet Blake Snyder.

Blake is a successful screenwriter and author and is noted as one of the most successful "spec" screenwriters in Hollywood. He is also a celebrated and sought after contemporary screenwriting teacher and author of the book Save The Cat! which has become a new reference standard for both novice and experienced writers of film. While in LA, I was able to attend one of Blake's Master Classes and was looking forward to extending that experience by attending a seminar with Blake in New York City later this month.

Unfortunately, our office received word yesterday that Blake died from cardiac arrest on Tuesday morning. He was just 50. Remarkably, he had already contributed enormous insight to the art of character development and story structure in regard to writing for film.

Building on foundations set years earlier by teaching masters like Syd Field and Robert McKee, Blake approached the craft of screenwriting with a sense of movie business practicality. His philosophies embraced solid foundations and clean, clear structure. Blake's innovation of the "beat sheet" is a milestone in understanding screenwriting structure and joins tools like Syd Field's story paradigm as essential elements for screenwriters to gaining greater understanding of their craft. His emphasis was also on the thrill and enjoyment of creating a satisfying journey within the writing experience and his charismatic, jubilant and infective enthusiasm was central in his presentation, and in his writing style.

Any writer contemplating writing for the screen, novice or expert, can thankfully continue to benefit from Blake's work by reading his books or reliving his projects on DVD. We recommend Save The Cat! with great enthusiasm, while his second book, Save The Cat! goes to the Movies, follows up by pointing out the principals in his techniques as they appear in Hollywood films that are readily available to re-watch and review on DVD and download. While in LA, Blake hinted at releasing a third book and was actively engaged in further screenwriting projects. You can get more information about Blake and his work by visiting his blogsite on the web at

To Blake's friends and family, to his students and to his admirers... we join with all of you in celebrating a man who loved his work and shared that enthusiasm and joy with all of us. To Blake, as it will be for so many others, each beat resonates clearer and stronger for your inspiration. Thanks.

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