by Daniel Loria
In this series of interviews, BoxOffice and Art House Convergence recognize some of the most influential members of the non-profit art-house community.
One of Gary Meyer's first jobs in film programming was in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco where, as a college student, he booked a daily grind-house double feature. Meyer's career took off from his early days in San Francisco, and he eventually co-founded one of the premier art-house cinema chains in North America, Landmark Theatres. Meyer left Landmark in 1996 and has since dedicated his career to film programming and curation as a consultant to art-house cinemas across the country, and in a stint as the co-director of the Telluride Film Festival. He recently launched a web magazine called Eat Drink Films, which will expand to a food-and-drink-related film festival this October.
BoxOffice spoke with Meyer about the lessons he's learned in a lifetime of booking films.
What were some of the challenges in launching Landmark Theatres?
The original three partners were Steve Gilula, Kim Jorgensen, and myself. Kim had taken the Nuart Theatre in Los Angeles, and we wanted to take over the UC Theater at Berkeley. We joined our efforts, and at the second Telluride Film Festival, we formed our partnership. We didn't expect to have a circuit, but the UC Theater opened, and friends from Sacramento called me and gave us the idea to open a location there. It snowballed from there: San Diego, Pasadena, and more. Kim went home to Milwaukee for the holidays one year and came back and said, "We have to take over the Oriental Theater in Milwaukee." He just wouldn't let up, so we went to Milwaukee and the theater was just stunning. The owners of the building were contractors and electricians, and they had completely restored the theater stunningly, but they didn't know anything about the movie business, and their bookings and grosses were terrible. So we talked ourselves into taking this crazy leap across the country with the Oriental, and it was a success, but we also knew we had to have other theaters in the Midwest so we could appoint a district manager who could look over what we were doing there. We found theaters in Madison, Minneapolis, and then Chicago, and we just kept on growing. Initially they were repertory houses, but as home video came along, we needed to get more adventurous in our programming.
How did you address that threat from home entertainment?
One of the things we thought was very important was to develop marketing strategies that would allow our local managers to do the promotion in a manner that would get them attention in their particular markets. We said to our managers, you are the spokesperson to our brand; you are the face, and what we're going to do is create a marketing program where every new, first-run art film opening in our theaters will include marketing guidelines with ideas that you could do to get attention. You're required to have a press screening and get the film reviewed in the daily papers-if you get a photograph with that review, that's worth $50 for you, the manager. If you get it on the front cover of the entertainment section, that's worth $100. If you get a feature piece, whether it's a wire service or phone or in-person interview, we'll do anything we can to get those set up; that's worth money to you. Tie in with a business, get a window display, tie in with the local PBS or NPR station, the college station, and so on-we created a price structure for what all these things were worth for every manager as bonuses. It was incredibly successful, because we had built-in incentives, and we only hired people who loved movies.
What can independent movie theaters do to gain an edge in the current exhibition market?
The market is constantly changing; you have chains like Cinemark and Regal doing their own programs, and doing a good job within the context of what they do. The independent art-house operator really needs to find that balance between getting some of the higher profile films-something like Birdman or The Imitation Game-that do some crossover business, but when they play, they're going to play alongside a number of other theaters, and the other smaller films. The reason to play the higher-profile films is to bring in audiences that may be new to your theater, and to generate revenue that would underwrite the riskier, smaller films. Keep it very personal; I urge theaters to have someone introducing films whenever possible. Someone who is good in front of audiences. They can't be up there afraid and reading off a script; they need to be personal and passionate-something short that thanks the audience for coming and tells them about something interesting coming up. And at the end of the show, having someone at the doors thanking them for coming. I know it can't be done every time, but on the weekends, for example, you can bring in someone who doesn't have any on-the-floor responsibilities with tickets or concessions, but rather they are an ambassador to the theater and a problem solver. Someone that introduces the film and says good night, that the audience knows as someone they can approach and ask a question. Personalizing the experience is very important.
Do some unique programming: a festival, classic movies on Tuesday nights, local documentary and student filmmakers. Do outreach to the educational community. Have screenings for all ages and bring in school groups, and if you have to give away the theater to bring them in-that's OK, they'll probably buy concessions and you're doing it in a non-operating hour anyway. And you're hopefully building new audiences. One of the dangers we observe in the art market is that we're a large part of our own audience. We became interested in this in our 20s, and we are still going to those movies in our 60s, but where are the younger audiences? They're not there in large enough numbers. We need to figure out ways to bring that young audience back.
By Daniel Garris
Warner's American Sniper broke out in a big way this weekend with a massive $107.21 million in its first four days of wide release. The Clint Eastwood directed Best Picture nominee starring Bradley Cooper had clearly been building up major momentum leading up to its wide release and ultimately exploded out of the gate this weekend to a degree that nobody was expecting. With a three-day gross of $89.27 million, American Sniper easily established new opening weekend records for the Martin Luther King holiday weekend and for the month of January as it outpaced the $41.52 million take of previous record holder, last year's Ride Along, by an astounding 115 percent. With the addition of a very strong performance in three weeks of platform release (which clearly helped build up buzz for the film), American Sniper has grossed $110.64 million through Monday.
In a break-out performance of this size, American Sniper clearly appealed to various audience demographics and to moviegoers throughout the country. The audience breakdown for the film skewed towards male moviegoers (57 percent) and towards moviegoers over 25 years of age (63 percent). American Sniper also received an added boost from the strong performance of its fairly last-minute IMAX release, which was responsible for an estimated $10.82 million of the film's overall gross this weekend.
With no potential blockbuster performers arriving in the marketplace over the next two weeks, American Sniper is in perfect position to continue to dominate the box office throughout the rest of January. The film received an exceptional A+ rating on CinemaScore.
It was a tight race for second place between Paddington and The Wedding Ringer this weekend. While The Wedding Ringer placed in second over the three-day frame, Paddington moved into second place over the four-day frame.
Paddington took in respective three-day and four-day grosses of $18.97 million and $25.49 million. The family film from The Weinstein Company debuted on the high end of expectations. Paddington opened just 1 percent below the $25.70 million four-day start of The Nut Job over Martin Luther King weekend last year, which was quite respectable given that Paddington didn't have the added advantage of higher priced 3D admissions that The Nut Job and most other family films have. Paddington received an A rating on CinemaScore, which is a promising early sign for the film going forward.
Sony's The Wedding Ringer was off to a respectable start with respective three-day and four-day grosses of $20.65 million and $24.04 million. The modestly budgeted comedy starring Kevin Hart and Josh Gad opened on the low end of pre-release expectations. The Wedding Ringer opened 14 percent below the $27.84 million four-day start of last year's About Last Night, but will likely hold up better going forward than About Last Night did (due in part to that film being a Valentine's Day release). Potential for The Wedding Ringer was no doubt limited at least somewhat by the breakout performance of American Sniper with adult moviegoers. The Wedding Ringer received a healthy A- rating on CinemaScore.
On the heels of last weekend's stronger than expected start Fox's Taken 3 was down three spots and a sharp 56.5 percent to land in fourth place with $17.05 million over the four-day frame. Audience overlap with American Sniper has clearly led to increased front-loading for Taken 3. The third installment of the Liam Neeson led franchise has grossed $65.84 million in eleven days. That places the film a reasonable 25 percent behind the $87.80 million eleven-day take of 2012's Taken 2. Taken 3 grossed $14.72 million over the three-day frame.
Selma rounded out the weekend's top five with a four-day take of $13.85 million. The Best Picture nominee from Paramount was up a healthy 22.5 percent over last weekend's three-day performance. The film was helped out this weekend by the Martin Luther King holiday (Monday's $5.07 million performance represented an 86.5 percent increase over Sunday) and by its Best Picture nomination. Selma has grossed $31.51 million after eleven days of wide release. While Selma is performing softer than was widely anticipated, the film is still having a respectable run thus far with its modest price tag in mind. Selma took in $8.78 million over the three-day frame.
Four-day holiday weekend grosses for other Best Picture nominees included $8.02 million for The Weinstein Company's The Imitation Game (playing in 1,611 locations), $1.87 million for Fox Searchlight's Birdman (playing in 471 locations) and $1.18 million for Focus' The Theory of Everything (playing in 509 locations). Respective current total grosses stand at $51.62 million for The Imitation Game, at $28.59 million for Birdman and at $27.49 million for The Theory of Everything.
Meanwhile, Universal's Blackhat was dead on arrival this weekend with $4.49 million over the four-day frame. The Michael Mann directed film starring Chris Hemsworth debuted in eleventh place and opened well below its already modest expectations. The decision to open Blackhat against American Sniper (and one week after Taken 3) always seemed like a puzzling one and Blackhat simply couldn't find an audience this weekend due in part to that decision. The film debuted 75 percent below the $18.03 million start of last year's Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. Long term prospects for Blackhat are bleak and the film having received a poor C- rating on CinemaScore won't help matters either. Blackhat grossed $3.90 million over the three-day frame.
Art House Convergence 2015: The Keynote Speakers
Interview with Anne Thompson, Founder and Editor in Chief, Thompson on Hollywood
by Daniel Loria
Anne Thompson is among the best-known entertainment-industry journalists working today. She has served as an editor in some of the most respected trade publications, including Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, Premiere, and Film Comment. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Vanity Fair, LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, and Entertainment Weekly, among many other outlets. Her book, The $11 Billion Year: From Sundance to the Oscars, an Inside Look at the Changing Hollywood System, is available from HarperCollins. Thompson continues to cover the film industry through her blog, Thompson on Hollywood. BoxOffice spoke with Anne Thompson ahead of her keynote address at Art House Convergence to get her insight on the latest topics affecting theatrical exhibition today.
What would you say is the current state of the exhibition industry?
The transition to digital is well under way, and while the theaters have made the move to digital projection, I don't think the industry as a whole has figured out what the new model is going to be. There's a lot of innovation and experimentation on the independent side, and there's also a lot of pressure on the studio side for theaters to shorten their windows. I think that kind of give-and-take, push and pull, will continue to play out. And I don't think that's going to be easy or necessarily pleasant. I think it's going to be more and more challenging for everybody to step up their game and be open to innovation and experimentation and figuring out ways to reach audiences-figuring out the right film to show to their individual communities. This is not a time for following formulas or doing things the way you've always done them. This is a time to really stay ahead of the game.
Studios seem to be spending more money on fewer films. Has this opened an even greater opportunity for independent and foreign cinema in North America?
I think the biggest mistake that Hollywood is making is that they're gearing so much of their product to the foreign marketplace and not offering enough diversity at different times of the year domestically. On the independent side, there is more opportunity for discovery of incredibly compelling, original movies that are not as formulaic. I think that's the most exciting thing: exhibitors can be more aggressive about seeking out the films that exist away from established avenues.
Do you believe attitudes concerning day-and-date VOD releases will change significantly in the near future?
I think we're still in an experimental phase. Theaters that are in the VOD space are trying out different things and figuring out what works for them and what works for different kinds of movies. I would like to see more transparency in knowing what the VOD numbers actually are. The more information we have, the more numbers we are working with, the better it will be for everyone involved. A lot of people simply don't know what those numbers are and make a lot of projections and assumptions that may or may not be based on fact. The sweet spot for VOD seems to be when you can establish a brand, get reviews, get a certain buzz going in the marketplace.
With so many of the bigger exhibition chains investing money in new projection technology and value-added features like luxury seating, what can independent exhibitors do in order to stand out in the market?
I think Alamo Drafthouse has innovated beautifully in this space. They figured out a way to cater to the cinephiles without ruining the moviegoing experience. I think focusing on the experience is going to continue to be an important way to lure moviegoers to cinemas at a time when they're becoming more comfortable watching films in their living rooms. As digital living rooms become more common, comfortable, and sophisticated, it is going to become even more difficult for theaters to pull people out of their homes to see films. That's why I believe programming is the most important thing. Of course the quality of the experience counts, but the quality of the movie is primary. It's something I've learned in my own work as a blogger: you have to reach farther and find the right content in order to get people to read you. You have to reach people with the right hook; you have to reach people with the right topic. I think the same is true for exhibitors. It's about knowing your constituents and knowing how to reach them.
by Russ Collins
In January, we are reminded of Janus (no, not the legendary distribution company, the Roman god), and are compelled to reflect back and look toward our future simultaneously. The Art House Convergence began as an idea, emerging from the first meeting of the Sundance Institute Art House Project in January 2006. There were 12 exhibitors in attendance and two dozen delegates. This year, our annual conference will have over 450 attendees from all over North America, as well as many international colleagues.
Besides the annual conference, the Art House Convergence now presents regional seminars, hosts the Art House Visiting Members program, and will be launching the newly expanded Sundance Institute Art House Project as a Good Housekeeping institutional validation program in participation with the Sundance Institute in January 2015. In addition to this growth, the IFP Festival Forum partners with the convergence during the annual January conference, providing networking and educational opportunities to film-festival professionals.
The key purpose of the Art House Convergence is to increase the quantity and quality of art-house cinema exhibition in North America. We do this by encouraging cinema exhibition that is innovative, inclusive, strives for win-win solutions, and promotes functionality and success, both financial and in terms of a humanistic and communitarian ethos. Our conferences focus on the education and professional development necessary to operate the community-minded, incredibly passionate art-house exhibitors we represent.
The result: the convergence movement has grown, and a sense of unity and camaraderie is building among art-house cinemas in North America. Art-house cinemas are looking beyond mere profit and are enthusiastically embracing a community cultural mission. For many if not most art-house operators, there has always been a mission, but now, collectively validated, it has grown much deeper. For the last eight years, our art-house community has celebrated this sense of community and unity at the Art House Convergence. Our collaborations with the IFP Festival Forum, our Art House Visiting Members program, and our upcoming Sundance Institute Art House Project program work to build that art-house community with not just cinema exhibitors but also with our cinema audiences.
We deeply appreciate the opportunity to partner with BoxOffice Pro for [their coverage] with a focus on art-house exhibition. Though we have many of the same burdens and opportunities as our commercial exhibitors, there are a few unique qualities to being an art-house exhibitor, and we are grateful to BoxOffice Pro for allowing us to share our stories.
Russ Collins is the founder of Art House Convergence and has served as CEO of the Michigan Theater since 1982.
Taken 3 grossed another $31.4 million overseas, pushing its cume to $99 million. The action flick's top international market this weekend was the UK with $5.4 million from 800 locations. The global cume is now $147.8 million.
Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb raked in $17.8 million for an overseas total of $179.9 million. Globally, Secret of the Tomb is up to $280.8 million.
Penguins of Madagascar earned $16.3 million, pushing its overseas cume to $225.6 million. The animated effort is now up to $305.7 million globally.
A #1 debut frame of $15 million in China helped Seventh Son's overseas tally hit $21.7 million. The action flick has already grossed $60.5 million internationally before opening in North America.
Exodus: Gods and Kings added $10.9 million, pushing its overseas cume to $185.8 million. The epic is up to $249.8 million globally.
The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies took in $9.8 million for an overseas cume of $558.6 million. Globall, Five Armies is up to $803.1 million globally.
Expanding on its staggering North American wide debut, American Sniper added $9.3 million from 8 markets for an early overseas tally of $25.4 million.
The Theory of Everything snagged another $8 million overseas for a solid international total of $31 million. The global total is $58.5 million.
Into the Woods added another $7.3 million overseas, pushing its total abroad to $26 million. Globally, the musical is now up to $140.3 million.
Big Hero 6 tacked on additional $7.2 million internationally this. Disney's animated flick has earned an impressive $212.2 million overseas, and its global haul is $428.3 million.
Unbroken posted $6.6 million overseas this weekend, The Angelina Jolie-directed drama is now up to $21.8 million internationally. Globally, Unbroken is up to $131.2 million.
Blackhat debuted in 19 overseas territories this weekend, earning $2.2 million. Combined with the weak North American opening, the cyber thriller has earned $6.8 million.