By Daniel Loria
’N Sync was at the height of its fame in 2001. The band was coming off of the best-selling success of its album No Strings Attached during a time when record sales still mattered. The accompanying world tour had also been a hit, spawning an Imax version of one of the group’s sold-out shows in Detroit. ’N Sync: Bigger Than Live was released in the giant-screen format in 2001 as a 48-minute concert film. The movie grossed $44,082 in its opening weekend and topped out its theatrical run at $1.8 million. By the end of the decade, ’N Sync would no longer be releasing albums, and the music industry would be turned on its head. Concert movies, however, would be entering a new age of financial viability.
The rise of digital media completely changed the music industry. A byproduct of that transition was the added pressure on recording artists to increase the scope and length of their tours, adding performances to mitigate the losses resulting from the steep drop in album sales. Musicians faced the same challenge that exhibitors have dealt with for generations: how to sustain an industry amid the rise of new home-entertainment technologies. Concerts sought to reconnect the public with the excitement and spectacle of live music.
The top five highest-grossing concert films of all time have been released over the past six years. The time frame directly aligns with the recession and postrecession era that followed the 2008 financial crash. The economic turmoil left families with a decrease in disposable income as the global economy struggled to reassert itself. A family outing to the closest venue for a big concert suddenly had the potential to become a burdensome expense. High ticket prices, transportation costs, parking, concessions, and merchandise could easily turn a family night out into an evening costing upward of $500.
Post-recession America has provided the perfect circumstances for concert films to find an audience. Families with children too young to attend live concerts and those who find it too expensive to attend the events can now enjoy a similar level of a concert’s excitement and spectacle at a fraction of the cost in their local movie theaters.
This isn't to imply that ticket sales for concerts have dipped since 2008, nor that concert films have in any way begun to supplant live music events. Concert movies have instead become a viable alternative for family entertainment and, for the first time in box office history, a potential source of significant profit for exhibitors, distributors, artists, and audiences.
Pop idols were born as soon as teenagers became a demographic of consumers with enough buying power to bring in profit for any company. If these artists could sell records, the assumption was that they could sell movies as well. The rise of the teenage consumer occurred throughout the 1950s, a period coinciding with the popular emergence of television and during the height of Hollywood’s studio system. This was a period when studios were in the business of making movies with a streamlined efficiency; studios had their own backlots, stables of screenwriters, and an ever-rotating talent pool of actors and directors on exclusive contracts. It didn’t really matter if Elvis could act or not, there was already a team on salary employed by the studio that could mold a project around the star.
These star vehicles saw minor changes as the film industry went through its own transformation over the subsequent years. The generations that followed came with their share of recording artists who attempted a transition to the silver screen. There are too many failures in this category to list, but several success stories have emerged, as in the case of artists like Barbra Streisand, Kris Kristofferson, Cher, Will Smith, and Mark Wahlberg. The most striking recent example comes with ’N Sync’s Justin Timberlake, who has spent the better part of the last decade on acting projects instead of a solo pop career that showed promise in 2006.
If the Spice Girls were formed in today’s media market, one has to wonder if something like Spice World would still get made. Pop stars have turned a corner thanks to the newfound box office viability of concert films; if the public loves to see these artists sing, does that mean they’re just as interested in seeing them act? A great Spice Girls concert can be a fun experience, even within a kitsch context, but a Spice Girls film can’t guarantee a good shelf life beyond a cult appreciation. Today’s concert films cut out the middleman of a screenwriter and rid themselves from the constraints of narrative cinema to give audiences a simpler product: pop stars doing what they do best.
Concert films are equally as enticing for producers and artists themselves. The entire shoot can be incorporated into an existing tour, requiring little extra effort or time from stars. No script development, no creative differences with directors, no time editing around a dramatic performance that doesn’t work on screen. The film’s theatrical release becomes a de facto global tour for recording artists without requiring any additional nights inside of a tour bus. The concert film has therefore become ingrained into a band’s marketing strategy. Morgan Spurlock, the documentary filmmaker of the product-placement satire The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, knows a thing or two about today’s nebulous line between a feature film and a marketing campaign. He is also the director and one of the producers of this summer’s biggest concert movie, One Direction: This Is Us.
The success of recent music documentaries owes a lot to the rise of reality television as well. Live music had been a staple of network TV for years before the introduction of MTV shifted recording artists to cable television. The pop band explosion of the late ’90s used MTV’s popular after-school talk-show/music-video-countdown “Total Request Live” as a launching pad. The show was filmed at MTV’s Times Square studios with sweeping shots of screaming teenage fans holding homemade signs in support of their teen idols. TRL was cancelled in 2008 as MTV began to focus more on unscripted reality series like The Hills, the successful spin-off to the wildly popular Laguna Beach.
By that time, music performances had moved back to network television thanks to the success of Fox’s American Idol. The show came on as a summer replacement in 2002 and became a national phenomenon. Music performances on network television dominated watercooler chatter around the nation. Fox would continue to bank on this renewed interest in musical performances with Glee in 2009. That show went on to get its very own big-screen concert film in 2011, Glee: The 3D Concert Movie finished a limited release in North America with $11.8 million.
The Disney Channel took a cue from this trend when it premiered Hannah Montana in 2006. The show launched the music career of its star, Miley Cyrus, by focusing on the story of the day-to-day life of a tween pop star. It was only a matter of time before Cyrus became a star in her own right, free from her fictional alter ego. Disney banked on the popularity of the Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana phenomenon with the 2008 film Hannah Montana & Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert. The movie broke records in limited release, grossing $65.3 million during its North American run. The Cyrus vehicle still holds the highest opening weekend of all time for a concert film with a $31.3 million debut.
Hannah Montana & Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert included an appearance by another band featured in Cyrus’ television show, the Jonas Brothers. The boy band trio would release a concert film of its own the following year, Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience. The project managed to become one of the most successful films in the genre after grossing $19.1 million in North America.
The success of these Disney releases motivated other studios to seek out similar projects of their own. Michael Jackson’s untimely death prevented the King of Pop from embarking on a comeback world tour. The rehearsal footage was edited into a concert documentary and released by Sony only four months after the singer’s death. This Is It grossed $72 million in North America and became the highest-grossing concert film of all time in the global box office, making $261 million worldwide.
It was only going to be a matter of time before other pop stars joined the act. Justin Bieber: Never Say Never was released in North America in 2011, becoming the highest-grossing concert film of all time domestically with a $73 million total in North America. Paramount distributed the 3D concert film, which went on to finish its theatrical run with a $98.4 million global cume.
The release of One Direction: This Is Us will come as an interesting closing chapter in a turbulent summer for Sony. The company will be hoping that One Direction: This Is Us can become its safest bet of the summer season: the band comes with an established legion of global fans, particularly the types of fans who go to movie theaters with their parents.
It makes sense that both the music and film industries are relying on spectacle to compete against emerging home-entertainment technologies. Exhibitors have been down this road before and are used to tapping into audience trends in their programming. It’s becoming easier to find screenings of live events simulcast in movie screens around the country, bringing a range of events from performances by New York’s Metropolitan Opera to the latest Floyd Mayweather Jr. fight to a theater near you.
Live events have the potential to become an important alternative for exhibitors. Speculation abounds in the cable television industry about a future where cord-cutting becomes commonplace, bringing down the subscriber count in the pay-television business. This provides an interesting opportunity for exhibitors, who could offer live events on a big screen at a fraction of the cost of a cable subscription or pay-per-view package.
While concert movies haven’t reached the blockbuster box office level of studios’ summer tentpoles, they provide the industry the simple alternative to produce a film with built-in audience awareness and a loyal fan base without going anywhere near the inflating budgets of recognizable franchises. The concert film’s box office revival is a testament to the resiliency of the silver screen amidst a changing media landscape.
New technology in the entertainment industry is discarding old business models as fast as it is creating new opportunities. Exhibitors have been able to thrive throughout all the changes in the film industry by consistently innovating and connecting with audiences’ tastes and viewing tendencies. Concert movies could be the first step for the big screen to go live in the near future.
A version of this article originally appeared in the August issue of BoxOffice Magazine.
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Monsters University became the fourth Disney/Pixar to cross the $700 million mark on Thursday, joining Toy Story 3 ($1.063B), Finding Nemo ($922M), and Up ($731M) as one of the top grossing releases worldwide for the companies. Monsters University is expected to overtake Toy Story 3 as the biggest Pixar film of all time in China.
Is Michigan Hollywood's new backyard?
It certainly seems like it these days. Michael Bay is currently shooting the next Transformers in Detroit, and now Zack Snyder will bring his Man of Steel sequel there as well. (See official press release below.)
The Untitled Superman/Batman Film will hit theaters on July 17, 2015.
The Michigan Film Office announced today that the next DC Entertainment Super Hero movie from Warner Bros. Pictures has been approved for a film incentive from the state.
The film, from director Zack Snyder, brings together the two greatest Super Heroes of all time-Superman and Batman-for the first time on the big screen. Production on the new film is expected to begin in metro Detroit and throughout Michigan sometime in the first quarter of 2014. Snyder is co-writing the story with David S. Goyer, who is writing the screenplay. Charles Roven and Deborah Snyder are producing the film, which will star Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck, Amy Adams, Laurence Fishburne and Diane Lane.
"This project will further strengthen the reputation of Michigan and metro Detroit as a premier film destination," said Margaret O'Riley, director of the Michigan Film Office. "We look forward to the spotlight shining on our incredibly talented workforce and the businesses that support our film industry here in Michigan."
"Detroit is a great example of a quintessential American city, and I know it will make the perfect backdrop for our movie," stated filmmaker Zack Snyder. "Detroit and the entire state of Michigan have been fantastic collaborators, and we are looking forward to working together on this film."
The as-yet-untitled feature film was awarded an incentive of $35 million on $131 million of projected in-state expenditures. The production is expected to hire 406 Michigan workers, with a full time equivalent of 426 jobs, plus an additional 6,000 man/days of extra work. The production anticipates using approximately 500 local Michigan vendors during the course of production and spending $5.1 million on local hotels, as well as an additional $3.5 million in out-of-town cast and crew per diem payments that will be spent in the local economy but which fall outside of the incentive program.
The incentive funding for the project will be allocated out of the Fiscal Year 2014 budget. However, any funding remaining from the budget at the end of the current fiscal year will be directed to offset the full incentive amount for this project.
LOS ANGELES -- In the midst of its biggest ticket-selling summer in company history, Fandango announced today it has entered into an agreement to acquire the business of Quantum Loyalty Solutions, Inc., the leading provider of movie ticket-related promotions and owner of Hollywood Movie Money, a trusted and widely recognized movie currency that is accepted at more than 36,000 screens nationwide. The acquisition of Quantum will accelerate Fandango's promotional movie ticket and gift card business, dramatically increasing the company's broad array of product offerings and marketing solutions for studios, exhibitors, advertisers, and promotional sponsors worldwide. The acquisition is subject to customary closing conditions and is expected to close in the third quarter of this year.
For nearly three decades, Quantum has connected top brands with blockbuster movies through creative Hollywood Movie Money promotions and customer loyalty programs, centered on the moviegoing experience. Recent campaigns have supported some of the year's biggest films including "Iron Man 3," "Despicable Me 2," "Man of Steel," "Monsters University," "Fast and Furious 6," "Star Trek into Darkness," "The Heat" and others.
"The marriage of Quantum's promotions business and Fandango's ticketing platform will offer unprecedented new opportunities for studios, exhibitors and brands to engage with millions of moviegoers," said Paul Yanover, President of Fandango. "We look forward to working with the Quantum team to build on Hollywood Movie Money's momentum and help drive even more movie fans into theaters."
The union will make Hollywood Movie Money currency more convenient for consumers, as many rewards will now be redeemable through Fandango's website and mobile apps, visited by more than 41 million moviegoers each month. For the first time, consumers redeeming Hollywood Movie Money rewards will also be able to purchase additional movie tickets for their friends or family who are accompanying them to the theater.
Fandango provides online and mobile ticketing to more than 21,000 screens nationwide, more than 75% of U.S. theaters with advance ticketing capabilities. With the addition of Quantum, Fandango will have an unparalleled movie ticket promotion capability reaching over 95% of U.S. theaters, as well as many theaters in major international markets.
The acquisition follows Fandango's recent announcement that it signed its fifth new exhibitor this year, Pacific Theatres, expanding its Southern California footprint to cover 80% of theaters with advance ticketing capabilities. The other new exhibitor agreements include Muvico, Studio Movie Grill, Krikorian Premiere Theatres and Penn Cinema, in addition to Fandango's extension of its long-term partnership with Regal Entertainment Group, the nation's largest theater circuit.
By Phil Contrino
As Summer 2013 comes to close, we wanted to sum everything up in an unconventional manner. It seems fitting for a summer that has been full of highs, lows and plenty of surprises. Hollywood's busiest season is always fascinating to watch, and this season was certainly no exception. We've decided to hand out some fake awards in order to remember some of the summer's biggest stories:
The "Hey, We Don't Need Superheroes!" Award goes to:
Despicable Me 2 and Fast & Furious 6 have combined for nearly $1.6 billion globally. The Purge turned into a nice, low-budget hit with $84 million in global receipts. What do all three films have in common? That's easy: there are no superheroes in any of them. As purveyors of snark continue to complain about Hollywood's reliance on superheroes, Universal proved this summer that banking on caped crusaders is not essential to having a successful slate. Moviegoers crave diversity at multiplexes, and Universal succeeded by giving them just that. It's funny that one of Universal's biggest disappointments this year--behind the R.I.P.D. disaster, of course--is Kick-Ass 2, a dark comedy about teenagers trying to be superheroes.
The "Counter-Programming Really Does Pay Off" Award goes to:
The Great Gatsby
Traditional wisdom says that The Great Gatsby should not have earned $330 million+ globally. The Warner Bros. release opened in between Iron Man 3 and Star Trek Into Darkness--a daunting task for any film, let alone a stylized take on a popular novel with a depressing ending. Luckily for WB, traditional wisdom isn't always right. The Great Gatsby's staggering $50.1 million opening weekend in North America proved that audiences were hungry for a film that didn't rely on explosions and fight sequences that seem to go on forever. A large percentage of the moviegoing population (read: adults who don't care about sci-fi and action films) is neglected during the summer. When Hollywood pays attention to that crowd, the rewards are palpable.
The "Movie That Failed Because Of Another Movie" Award goes to:
White House Down
The pairing of two reliable draws--Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx--with Roland Emmerich, a director who knows how to deliver big-budget action extravaganzas that succeed at the box office, should have been led to a massive hit. The problem? Well, White House Down's story about POTUS' abode being invaded was way too similar to Olympus Has Fallen, a sleeper hit that has earned $161 million globally since opening in March. Take Olympus Has Fallen out of the picture and chances are WHD would be lumped in the same conversation with some of the summer's biggest hits. Instead, we lament its underwhelming $131 million global tally.
The "Movie That Succeeded Because Of Another Movie" Award goes to:
Iron Man 3
Sure, Iron Man 3 would have been massive even without Marvel's The Avengers, but we're pretty confident that success of The Avengers is what helped catapult IM3 to the rarefied $1 billion global plateau. The brand building that Disney/Marvel have accomplished is truly staggering. Keep a very close eye on Thor: The Dark World this November.
The "It's Really Important To Know Who Your Audience Is" Award goes to:
The Lone Ranger
Who exactly was The Lone Ranger made for? The Disney release proved to be too violent for young children, and it was too hip and edgy for people who enjoyed the classic television show it was based on. Oh, and it opened against Despicable Me 2, a film that did a much better job of appealing to families. The Lone Ranger is one of the biggest duds of all time because it tried to have a little bit of something for everyone, but instead ended up pleasing very few.
The "Hey, there are other weekends in the year to release a movie during!" Award goes to:
Tie: The Hangover Part III and Turbo
One of the main reasons that films bomb in the summer is the amount of competition that exists. Studio cram tentpoles into a very short period of time and there's often not enough room for them all to succeed. We strongly believe that The Hangover Part III and Turbo would have done much better had they opened outside of the summer season. The Hangover Part III was plagued by negative reviews, but it was really hurt by opening on the same weekend as Fast & Furious 6. As for Turbo, it came right after families had just enthusiastic forked out cash to see Monsters University and Despicable Me 2.
The "One For Them, One For Me" Award goes to:
"One for them, one for me" is the business strategy that many successful actors employ. This summer, Ethan Hawke proved that it can really pay off by starring in two wildly different hits. He anchored The Purge, a solid horror hit that was able to beat out The Internship during its opening frame, and Before Midnight, a critical darling that provided a breath of fresh air for patrons who craved a serious film about the perils of a long-term relationship.
The "Oscar Contenders Can Make Serious Dough In The Summer" Award Goes To:
The Weinstein Company
You can love him or you can hate him, but nobody is better at maximizing the potential of prestige pics than Harvey Weinstein. This summer, The Weinstein Company helped Fruitvale Station and Lee Daniels' The Butler compete in a market full of expensive action films. That's a commendable achievement.