by Shawn Robbins
Moderator Elvis Mitchell played host to a filmmakers' luncheon on Wednesday at CinemaCon. On stage for the special event were the renowned Sam Raimi, Oliver Stone, and Guillermo del Toro.
They began the afternoon's discussion with a debate on horror versus tension in film and how it pertains to attracting--and keeping--an audience. Stone commented that he's "too old for horror" now, preferring tense moments in his films. Raimi and del Toro differed somewhat, though all three generally agreed that tension was necessary to sell moments of horror (similar to setting up a joke in comedy). "Horror has to be transgressional," said del Toro, believing that pushing boundaries comes with the territory of the horror genre.
The conversation then turned more toward general topics. Raimi aims at making his movies specifically for an audience, while Stone adamantly feels that early screenings can be a hindrance to the final product. He cited his 1991 hit, JFK, as an example. Having denied test screenings for the film, Stone feels that was a blessing for the end result because it allowed them to focus on assembling the film rather than throwing it at an audience with incomplete information on a complex subject. Guillermo del Toro went on to explain that during the process of creating a movie he "discovers the moment" a movie will find its audience.
del Toro further explained his philosophy to be that an audience's desire for going to see movies boils down to two reasons: to see a reflection of ourselves, or to escape.
The panel then began revealing the biggest concerns of the present and future state of moviegoer experiences. Stone referred to what he calls the "copy/cut" phenomenon--not being able to tell the difference between action movies because marketing campaigns are are trying to emulate past successful films. "Content is king," said Stone, "and style is important but it gets old."
Raimi's concerns gravitated more toward exhibition. He emphasized that full immersion in theaters (such as Dolby Atmos and Barco systems) are integral toward driving theatrical attendance because those are experiences that cannot be replicated in the home--nor will they be for a long time. Raimi also would like to see the industry settle on fewer standards (or one). When filmmakers are mixing their work for a large variety of sound platforms, "quality may not pass down the chain," said Raimi. He then compared his hope for a standard in that arena to the standardization of 24 frames-per-second as the norm for film frame rates and how it helped to establish a consistency in the industry. del Toro differed somewhat, saying that he wants "more brushes" with which to paint his canvas.
As the forum wound down, Stone emphasized his poor experiences with regard to presentation in theaters. While some theaters may be putting the care and attention to detail necessary for a quality movie presentation, others aren't. He cited his experience of seeing The Avengers last year in a digital auditorium where the light exposure was low enough to make the picture significantly darker than optimal conditions. Further proclaiming that digital cinema has resulted in no projectionists being present and the theater "running on automatic", Stone feels strongly that theaters should exercise better management and ensure that presentation is always made a top priority. If that happens, the movie theater will go "back to being a sacred temple for the audience...and they will stay loyal."
The three versatile filmmakers closed their discussion by saying they all still go to theaters despite the occasional quality and presentation issues that are encountered. "Exhibition is the last frontier", said del Toro. Filmmakers and audiences both go to theaters because that's where movie-lovers go. Today's panel revealed just how important it is--for filmmakers, theater owners, and moviegoers alike--to protect that unique experience.
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Official transcript from Fithian's speech:
When the MPAA and NATO encourage parents to "CHECK THE BOX", we are asking them to learn more about their movie choices. And CHOICE constitutes the theme of my remarks today.
The state of the theatrical industry today is strong, primarily due to the diverse choices we offer our patrons in both content and experience. Our distribution partners provide the most important choice to our patrons - the movie options they can see in our theaters. Consider the movies that grossed more than $100 million domestically in 2012. They represented a wide array of choices. Action, comedy, drama, animation, musical, and history to name a few.
When ranked by box office gross, it's clear that movies rated PG-13 represent the blockbuster sweet spot, as those movies are appropriately entertaining for most age groups. But younger skewing titles also performed well as six PG movies made the list. If exhibitors could make one recommendation to our studio partners, it would be make more family titles and fewer R-rated movies.
Only two R movies made the top twenty last year, even though more R-rated movies were distributed than any other rating category.
Consider these numbers. The total gross from PG-13 rated movies almost doubled the return from R-rated movies, even though there were almost 50% more R-rated movies released. And the mighty PG movies nearly grossed what the R-movies generated, with less than one-third the number of titles. Americans have stated their clear choice, Hollywood. Give them more choices for all ages and they'll buy more tickets.
To be fair, 2012 had great movie choices, and with those options came record box office returns, with a record-breaking $10.8 billion domestically, representing a six percent increase over 2011. The great movie choices last year also drove 5.5% more people to the cinema in the U.S. and Canada.
Of course our business is global, and the international marketplace grew as well, also by six percent. When you combine the $23.9 billion international theatrical market with our domestic numbers, we achieved a worldwide record of $34.7 billion.
Just as broad movie choices can drive box office, limited choices can turn the market negative. Some industry critics quickly ignore our record-breaking year to focus instead on the 12% domestic box office decline in the first quarter of 2013. Indeed, we were down in the first quarter. But why? Simply put - not enough choices.
2013's first quarter had no "Hunger Games". But more damaging, the product selection in the first part of 2013 was dismal. During early 2012 we had more G, more PG, and more PG-13 rated movies than we had in 2013. Our numbers suffered this year under the weight of too many R-rated movies.
Fortunately, the diversity of product will improve throughout the remainder of the year. And that brings me to the next important factor - choices for all seasons. Exhibitors operate movie theaters twelve months a year. We do very well during the summer and winter holidays. But any month can produce a $100 million movie. In 2012, distributors spread their movies over the calendar, and we had a record year.
The award for distributing big movies in non-traditional months goes to my friend Nikki Rocco at Universal, who put Safe House in February, The Lorax in March, and Bourne in August, all to huge returns. Warners put family movie Journey 2 in February, and Academy Award winner Argo in October. Sony put 21 Jump Street in March and Hotel Transylvania in September, a month typically avoided as the first month of school. Fox put Taken 2 in October. And one more major studio, Lionsgate, scheduled blockbuster Hunger Games in March, instead of the summer.
In most, if not all of these cases, distribution in off-months produced higher returns than might have been realized during crowded holiday periods.
We've seen how movie choices for all ages and all seasons generate returns. Our industry could also benefit from more choices for both genders. In 2012 we had some good movies with strong leading females. But as we will discuss further during a ground-breaking lunch panel on Thursday, women are grossly underrepresented behind the camera, in front of the camera, and in the studio and exhibition executive suites. Congratulations certainly are due to Amy Miles and Kathleen Kennedy, winners of two very significant awards here at CinemaCon. I just wish we could clone each of them a dozen times.
The final criteria for product diversity is movies for all ethnicities. Given the global theatrical marketplace, our studio partners strive for a wide range of ethnic appeal. And the range produces results right here in the United States. As this chart demonstrates, Hispanics constitute our best customers, averaging 6.4 per capita attendance.
Our distribution friends give us good movie choices, while our NATO members focus on diversity in the theatrical experience.
Concession choices are important to our patrons. The traditional popcorn and a Coke constitute our biggest sellers. But many modern cinemas offer additional items, such as salads and burgers, finer dining menus, and adult beverages. In many locations, it's no longer "dinner and a movie". It's "dinner at the movies." I encourage attendees to check out the trade floor this week, where many food and beverage choices will be offered by our partners at the National Association of Concessionaires, led by President John Evans, Jr.
Cinema patrons deserve the freedom to choose the food and beverages they want. That important consumer choice extends to serving sizes as well. I congratulate our associates at NATO of New York for their successful law suit against Mayor Bloomberg's attempt to regulate consumer choice. If a patron wants to splurge and have a big Coke, they can. Or if they want a healthier option, they can make that choice too, without the government choosing for them.
Also at the trade show, delegates can see the latest technologies, brought to us by our partners at the International Cinema Technology Association, and their president, Joe Demeo. We have captioning for our deaf patrons; digital projection to show more varied content; 3D; wonderful sound systems and immersive audio; large screen formats; and mobile apps, to name a few. Consumers are responding to these technologies.
Even though our members have spent billions to offer the best theatrical experience, they still maintain affordable ticket prices. If the average ticket price forty years ago were adjusted for inflation, it would exceed the average price for 2012. And yet the cinema experience today is so much better than it was in 1972.
Back then, our patrons could go indoors or drive-in, and the choices ended there. Today, we still have indoor cinemas and drive-ins. But we also offer traditional concessions or fancy table service; various styles of seating; large or intimate auditoriums; family environments or adult beverage services; and a host of other options.
Cinema patrons have never before experienced this wide range of alternatives at their local movie theater. With broad choices in the content of movies, and the environments in which to view them, our industry's future is brighter than ever.
I want to conclude by thanking a few people who made this convention possible. NATO's Chairman David Passman, who is with us this morning, along with the entire NATO Executive Board. And our volunteer members on the conventions task force, with special thanks to chairmen Phil Harris and Bill Stembler. Bill steps down next week after five years of dedicated leadership. CinemaCon wouldn't have happened without Bill and Phil.
Two new films, Fune Wo Amu and CZ 12 (Chinese Zodiac), were unable to unseat Dragonball Z: Kami to Kami from the top spot in the Japanses box office last weekend. The latest installment in the Dragonball Z franchise has grossed $23.6 million in its three weeks in release. Wreck-It Ralph has only been out four weeks in Japan and maintained last week's #2 ranking with a $1.8 million weekend. It is the highest grossing U.S. import currently in release with a $26.4 million cume. Jack the Giant Slayer fell to tenth place with a $261,653 weekend. The Warner Bros. release has been a disappointment at the Japanese box office, grossing a total of $5.4 million.
Box Office Results for Japan. Weekend of April 12-14, 2013.
Oblivion dominated the UK box office over the weekend, grossing $7.5 million in 520 screens. The $14,524 per-screen average significantly above any other release in theaters. The Croods was also a big performer, only dropping 15% in its fourth weekend. The animated film has now grossed $34.6 million in the UK, outgrossing Disney's Oz: The Great and Powerful by $12 million. Scary Movie 5 only mustered a $1.6 opening weekend, a similar disappointment to its weak North American debut. The Place Beyond the Pines opened in 114 screens, the smallest count in the top ten, and grossed a strong $8,965 average. Jack the Giant Slayer only fell 36% over the weekend, a strong hold-over performance in its fourth week, and is currently outgrossing G.I. Joe: Retaliation. Danny Boyle's Trance fell to the 8th spot after a 53% drop in its third weekend. The latest film from the man behind the London Olympics' opening ceremony has grossed a $6.2 million cume in the UK.
Box Office Results for the United Kingdom. Weekend of April 12-14, 2013.
Oblivion was the only film in the Spanish box office last weekend to gross over one million, taking in $2.7 million across 508 screens. It outperformed the second place film, The Croods, by a margin of $2 million to become the undisputed king of the Spanish box office for its opening weekend. The Croods continued its strong performance in Spain over the weekend and reached a $12.6 million cume. Evil Dead came in third and performed better than its numbers indicate. The $2,079 per-screen average was only behind to Oblivion, and the horror film outgrossed G.I. Joe: Retaliation (in its third week) by over 50%. Alacran Enamorado ($184,417) and the Al Pacino vehicle, Stand Up Guys ($149,619), rounded out the new releases that broke into the top ten this week.
Box Office Results for Spain. Weekend of April 12-14, 2013.