by Patrick Corcoran

Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.
-Oscar Wilde

A disappointing summer movie season we thought was safely in the rearview mirror popped up again in January with the release of a Price Waterhouse Coopers report on moviegoers' attitudes toward the moviegoing experience. The 28-page report covered a lot of ground but, inevitably, the report focused on one thing: the cost of movie tickets.

One of the most interesting findings was that although moviegoing was off by roughly 15 percent last summer, the moviegoers surveyed perceived that they had gone to movies at the same rate as they had the previous year. Nearly half said they had gone the same number of times, while more than a quarter said they had attended more often. A quarter said they had gone fewer times. Further, 81 percent said they had seen at least one of the summer blockbusters in a movie theater, while 49 percent saw at least one at home. Unsurprisingly, moviegoing frequency is highest among young adults, with interest declining among older demographics.

While ticket prices got the lion's share of attention in the media, with Time gleefully announcing that "Fewer People Are Going to the Movies Because Ticket Prices Are Just Too High," the reality of what consumers were telling PwC was a bit more complex. Fifty-three percent of those responding selected "Ticket price is too high" when asked the question, "If less or about the same, which of the following best represents the reason for going to the movie theater less often?" Keep in mind that this is a group that overall estimated they went to the movies the same number of times as the previous year. These are not people who are avoiding the cinema because the price is too high.

The next most frequent response to the question was, "Movie genre/themes/titles not as interesting to me." These two reasons are, quite frankly, linked. Price is a raw number and does not really reflect what people are responding to when they answer these surveys. The real question at hand is value. Unlike almost any other consumer proposition, moviegoers recalibrate the value of going to the movie theater every time they think about going. The question in our guests' minds is not "Is going to the movie theater worth it?"-it clearly is, as the respondents in this survey go a bit more often than average. The question is, "Is going to see this movie worth it?"

This becomes a bit clearer when we look at a couple of other data points. The No. 1 response, at 75 percent, to the question "How influential to your decision process about whether or not to see a movie at the theater are the following factors?" was, "Depends on what's playing and if I'm interested in the genre/type." Second, and interestingly, only 23 percent said better movies would motivate them to go more often. Clearly, moviegoers base their moviegoing decisions on whether they are interested in the movies that are playing and are, broadly speaking, satisfied with what they are seeing.

This is not to say that price is not a factor. Respondents say that last-minute cheaper pricing on seats (53 percent) and $20 all-you-can-watch subscriptions (87 percent) would encourage them to see more movies. The most frequent moviegoers, unsurprisingly, are most interested in subscriptions. At that price, who wouldn't be?

Indeed, price comes quite strongly into view when respondents are asked to consider home options. Eighty-two percent are willing to pay a premium of between $10 and $20 to watch movies at home at the same time they are released in theaters. Interest falls off steeply at a higher premium. This is consistent with what theater owners have warned are the pricing traps of so-called "premium" home releases in a short window. Beside the enormous gap of potential profitability represented by that $10-$20 range, that number falls short of what distributors thought they could get at 60 days ($30) or at three weeks ($60). And that's the opening bid.

There is also a hint in this report of the effect that shrinking windows are having on the perception of price across the board. Just as moviegoers calibrate their sense of value based on their interest in the movies that are offered in theaters, so, too, do they adjust that sense on how long they think they'll have to wait to see the movie at home. Right behind price and interest in the movie as reasons why they might go to the movies less often is "Prefer to watch movies on my own schedule" at 30 percent and "Can see movies at home (on demand) shortly after they are released in the theater" at 24 percent.

Keep in mind that these perceptions of pricing come as, on average, ticket prices have increased a modest 3.5 percent since 2010 to $8.17 in 2014. That includes 3D, luxury cinemas, premium large-format screens and theaters offering seat-side food and beverage service. The average is up 8.9 percent since 2009, reflecting the large-scale introduction of 3D in 2010, and is still below the rate of inflation.

Although recent eye-popping attendance gains after reseating older theaters suggest otherwise, in-theater improvements like better seats, better presentation technologies, and the like stir only incremental interest in the respondents' minds as ways to increase their moviegoing. Better, of course, is a rather amorphous idea. How much better is the determining factor and a difficult one to imagine as a motivating factor unless one actually experiences it. It is also a truism that consumers rapidly accommodate improvements, and the improved experience becomes the new minimum expectation. The experience is good, is getting better, and has to keep getting better.

The summer that this report aims to explain is more easily explained by a simple lack of movies in the marketplace that would induce customers to part with their hard-earned dollars. In the record-breaking summer of 2013, there were 22 $100-million-plus budgeted releases. In the less-than-stellar summer of 2014, there were 12. With a 45 percent decrease in inventory, a 15 percent decrease in attendance isn't a disappointment; it's a miracle.

More movies mean more patrons, pure and simple. For movies that played on at least 1,000 screens in 2004, 24 movies (including those that continued in release in the subsequent year, grossed more than $100 million and accounted for 704 million admissions. In 2014, 33 movies grossed more than $100 million and accounted for 770 million admissions (that's down by two movies and 43 million admissions from 2013). The studios' tentpole strategy is working.

However, the movies that aren't in movie theaters tell the tale. In 2004, 41 movies grossed between $50 and $100 million and tallied 444 million admissions; in 2014, 33 movies in that grossing range accounted for 272 million admissions. For under-$50-million grossers in wide release, 15 fewer movies brought in 83 million fewer admissions in 2014 than a decade earlier.

The movies that are in the marketplace are attracting customers. We just don't have enough of them.

And the remarkable box office of the first five weeks of the year shows just how anomalous the past summer was. Without a marked change in pricing, without a fundamentally different movie theater experience from half a year ago, box office is booming. Through February 8, box office is up 6.5 percent over the same period last year-which was up 11 percent over the same period in 2013. In fact, box office is on pace with 2010 when Avatar was demolishing box office records.

What has changed? The movies. And the audience thinks they're worth the price.

 

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cinderellarunallnight.jpgDisney reports that Cinderella earned $4.57 million on Wednesday, bringing its six-day domestic total to a strong $83.1 million. The flick is currently pacing 6 percent behind where Maleficent stood through the same point, although that film had the advantage of 3D surcharges and summer weekday business.

Run All Night took in $0.82 million yesterday, giving it a sum of $13.85 million through six days. The latest Liam Neeson thriller is pacing 13 percent behind A Walk Among the Tombstones.

Moving back up to third place, Kingsman: The Secret Service eased 12 percent from last Wednesday to $0.65 million. The hit graphic novel adaptation has amassed $109.4 million domestically up to this point.

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel claimed fourth place with $0.648 million on Wednesday. The sequel's 13-day tally stands at a healthy $20.03 million.

Meanwhile, CHAPPiE added $0.57 million yesterday as it fell 41 percent from the same day last week. Neill Blomkamp's latest has taken in an underwhelming $25.15 million through 13 days.

 

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insurgent.pngLOS ANGELES - March 19, 2015 - The highly-anticipated "The Divergent Series: Insurgent," opening tonight at theaters across the country, is dauntlessly leaping to the top of Fandango's Fanticipation movie buzz indicator with a powerful 89 out of 100 points. "Insurgent" reigns supreme over all other new movie releases, representing more than 85% of Fandango's weekend ticket sales.

"The ‘Divergent' series has some of the most fervent fans of any film franchise," notes Fandango Chief Correspondent Dave Karger. "The appeal of ‘Insurgent' is the deeper relationship between main characters Tris and Four, played by Shailene Woodley and Theo James, resulting in a movie that's even more exciting and emotional than its predecessor."

According to a survey of more than a thousand "The Divergent Series: Insurgent" ticket-buyers on Fandango:
84% are Shailene Woodley fans;

67% picked Theo James as the supporting actor they are most excited to see in "Insurgent;"

62% have read all three "Divergent" books by Veronica Roth.


Karger interviewed "Insurgent"' stars Shailene Woodley and Theo James for this week's episode of the movie recommendation show, "Weekend Ticket." The full episode can be seen at http://www.fandango.com/weekendticket.

About Fandango's Fanticipation
Known for having its finger on the pulse of moviegoers, Fandango's movie buzz indicator, Fanticipation, provides statistical insight into the movies fans are planning to see in a given weekend. Fanticipation scores (based on a 1 to 100-point scale) are calculated via an algorithm of Fandango's advance ticket sales, website and mobile traffic, and social media engagement. Fanticipation is not intended as a forecast of the weekend box office; it is a snapshot of movie fan sentiment.

 

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Kumiko_Still.jpg

by Daniel Loria

In 2001, reports started circulating that a woman had traveled from Japan to Minnesota in search of the (fictional) fortune buried by Steve Buscemi at the end of the Coen Brothers' Fargo, only to die in the process. The true story differs significantly from the Internet speculation that those initial reports spawned, but the magic of the urban legend --that a person would travel across the world in search of a hidden treasure-- stayed with the Zellner brothers. The directing duo used the case as a platform to explore themes of alienation, discovery, and the power of folklore in their upcoming film, Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter. The film premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival to rave reviews and will enjoy a limited release this spring through Amplify Releasing. The Zellners spoke with BoxOffice about their festival hit.

What was your inspiration for this film?

David Zellner: There was a bit of information that came out after a true event that happened in 2001. This was before Twitter and Facebook, so we started seeing the story pop up in message boards. It was a story about this woman who traveled to Minnesota from Tokyo in search of the mythical fortune from [Fargo]. It really piqued our interest for two reasons: for the lack of information initially, and the antiquated notion of a treasure hunt --which is something from the age of exploration. We grew up hearing stories and folklore of that period. We loved the idea of that taking place in a contemporary setting. When it came out that it was just an urban legend, that made us like it all the more --it was that mythic quality that drew us to it in the first place.

The "true story" tag, that's something the Coen Brothers played with when releasing Fargo. Now you have films like Zero Dark Thirty and Selma that are being attacked by groups who apparently think feature films based on real stories should have factual and historical accuracy. As opposed to Fargo, your film is based on a true story --but you've been very candid in saying that the actual true story didn't interest you nearly as much as this folkloric, mythical-quest aspect of the story.

DZ: Whether it's a conventional documentary or a narrative feature, everything is manipulated and filtered through the perspective of the voice behind it --whether that's in an overt or a more subtle way. Rather than this literal truth that works on paper, we like to see the stylized approach coming at more indirect, human truth. That's what was more appealing to us, and that's what we like about folklore in general, mythology and fables. Human issues filtered through a story that approaches things in a less direct way.

Rinko Kikuchi stars in your film. Describe the search to find the right actress to anchor such a character-driven film.

DZ: We'd seen her in Babel initially and after that in some Japanese films. We liked her choices and thought she was a really interesting actress. We met with her and hit it off right away. She got the tone we were going for --and it's a very specific tone with Kumiko-the kind of balance between the humor and pathos. We quickly had a shorthand, and she dialed into the sensibility. We knew from very early on that she was the perfect person for the role.

We usually see Tokyo presented as this exotic, alienating, futuristic city in a lot of Western films. You guys invert that in your film. Tokyo is a perfectly familiar place for Kumiko, and as soon as the film gets to Minnesota, it seems absolutely alien. It reminded me of John Carpenter's The Thing. In the middle of nowhere, snowy and cold.

DZ: That's one of the things Nathan and I went over from the start. Everything in this film is from Kumiko's perspective. She's alienated a bit in Japan, and that only increases when she gets to Minnesota. At the same time, we're Westerners going to a language we don't speak and a culture we don't come from, so we didn't want this to be a tourist version of Japan. What we see is where she's from and what she's familiar with.

The film has a very specific tone. Based on the plot alone, one could imagine it veering to fifteen minutes of exposition in Japan and then a madcap, Gods Must Be Crazy-style comedy in the U.S. Your film is nothing like that at all; you went with a more subtle and character-driven feel.

DZ: This film could have very easily been a one-note joke, and it was very important for us to humanize it and give this character the respect she deserves. She's in every scene; everything is in her point of view. We wanted the audience to be on her side and rooting for her. Even if audiences don't agree with everything she's doing, they'll be able to relate on a human level. We didn't want to make her a one-dimensional butt of a joke. That would have been a real turn-off for us personally.

The Coen brothers shot Fargo in Minnesota during a very mild winter; they actually had to bring snow into some of the locations. What was your experience shooting there?

DZ: We were a small and mobile crew, and we were able to be flexible, shooting inside when it was warm out and heading out whenever it became miserable. I guess that's the opposite of what you would normally do.

Nathan Zellner: A lot of that has to do with the limited means we had to make the movie. We made sure our schedule was very specific and shot there in January and February to make sure we weren't pushing the limitations of the weather. It was pretty hard getting everything to work in that regard, lining it up with the Japan portion and all that stuff. We saw what the snowiest month would be because we couldn't afford to fake it.

DZ: And it never looks as real anyway. We had the schedule work out so we were shooting in Japan in autumn and Minnesota in the winter; we essentially shot two features back to back. Outside of ourselves, our producing partners, and our cinematographer, we used an entirely different crew for each unit.

What sort of filmmakers inspired you growing up?

DZ: We were kids of the late '70s and '80s. You mentioned John Carpenter, and we love him --we went to see his movies whenever we could sneak into R-rated movies-and the big blockbusters of that day, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and those sort of films. We became familiar with independent and international cinema in our late teens. Werner Herzog has definitely been a big influence for us.

NZ: One of the things we wanted to do with this film was create a theater-going experience and really pay attention to the image and the wide screen and sound design. When you see a new film that's coming out or that you haven't seen projected before, there's something about seeing it with an audience, and that was something we wanted to create with this. When you see the image that big, it lets you feel more involved in the story.

DZ: That's definitely something we talked about in the beginning. With so many formats available, there's still nothing that beats watching a movie in a theater. We didn't want this to be a talking-head kind of film; we wanted the landscapes of Japan and Minnesota to be characters. That visual element is really strong because we shot it in wide screen, and the intention of the film was to have it seen on the biggest screen possible.

 

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