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OSCARS: Jonah Hill – ‘Moneyball’

By | Sunday February 19, 2012 @ 11:25am PST

It stands to reason that Moneyball, a dramatic film about taking second chances on unproven talent, would cast a comedic performer opposite Brad Pitt. Having long been branded the master of deadpan in Judd Apatow’s canon, Jonah Hill aimed for the bleachers and lobbied for the role (after Demetri Martin fell out) of Oakland A’s stat-head Peter Brand, who persuades Pitt’s general manager Billy Beane to radically change his ways in Sony’s feature take on Michael Lewis’ novel. It was a natural progression in range for Hill, who had already shown a fierce literal side as the mama’s boy in 2010’s Cyrus. He spoke recently with AwardsLine contributor Anthony D’Alessandro.

AWARDSLINE: As a comedy actor, did you face any challenges from the director or studio heads over your capability to play drama?
HILL: I didn’t audition. I showed Bennett [Miller] Cyrus before it came out and that’s what they cast me from. You know I was at the bottom of a list of actors who weren’t known for their dramatic work. I knew Bennett socially and he knew I was eager to break out of whatever box I was in. As a respected filmmaker he wanted to make an unsuspecting choice. And [Sony Pictures co-chairman] Amy Pascal and I had a really great relationship coming off of Superbad. She knew I was trying to do more dramatic work. Regarding those comedic performers who segue to drama; out of my generation I think I made the most effort do both. If you think of my last two films last year, Cyrus and Get Him To The Greek come out a month apart and now I have Moneyball and The Sitter coming out about a month apart [almost three, actually]. Those two films two years in a row are completely unrecognizable and that’s the career I strive to have. Read More »

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At Mostly Blasé WGA Panel, Nominated Screenwriters Give Hints Of Discord

By | Friday February 17, 2012 @ 12:49pm PST

Perhaps a victim of too many participants and too little time, a panel featuring the WGA screenwriting nominees Thursday night at the guild’s Beverly Hills theater was heavy on niceties with only traces of insight. Three Moneyball writers — Aaron Sorkin, Stan Chervin and Steven Zaillian (who also wrote The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) — were joined by The Descendants’ writer-director Alexander Payne, Hugo‘s John Logan, Bridesmaids‘ Annie Mumolo, 50/50‘s Will Reiser and The Help‘s Tate Taylor for an hour-plus discussion mostly peppered with practical advice dished to a large audience of new or aspiring screenwriters. The event was billed as a pre-cursor to Sunday’s WGA Awards, featuring the WGA’s and Oscar’s nominees for original and adapted screenplay.

A couple of panelists did offer up moments of insidery detail. Payne tackled his screenplay for The Descendants after drafts were delivered by the project’s other writers Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, but he said he had to overlook their take on the story before warming up to the project. “I couldn’t get into the film through their drafts,” Payne said. “I respected their work very much but I had to return to the novel. I learned some of the things I didn’t want to do [with the story] through their drafts.” Payne said the novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings paved the way for his version of the screenplay, noting that this was his most “faithful adaptation” he’s done to date. “The [Hawaiian] aristocracy is very insular. They’re very suspicious of outsiders who come in and see what they want to see and leave,” he said. “My principal audience is the people who live there and I wanted people in Hawaii to believe I got it right.”

Payne said previous drafts of Descendants played up the high jinks of the younger daughter (played in the film by Amara Miller), but he said he “jettisoned that” and instead focused on the relationship between George Clooney’s character and the older daughter, played by Shailene Woodley. When writing, Payne said he likes to keep things “austere.” Though he may write a long script with details, when he’s ready to show it, minimalism wins out. “I like to keep it super austere. Ninety-one pages is the best length for a script.” Read More »

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OSCARS Q&A: Brad Pitt On ‘Moneyball’, His Status As A Multiple Nominee And Being A “Director Whore”

By | Friday February 10, 2012 @ 11:31am PST

Brad Pitt is on a roll, even for Brad Pitt. Arguably the world’s No. 1 male movie star, he is at the top of his game, enjoying widespread critical acclaim for his 2011 output Moneyball and The Tree Of Life — which he both starred in and produced through his Plan B production company. Both scored Best Picture Oscar nominations but were troubled projects that likely would not have seen the light of a camera if not for Pitt’s determination and ability to make them happen. He has already won New York Film Critics Circle and National Society of Film Critics awards for best actor in Moneyball, and now he’s up for an Oscar for that role as Oakland A’s GM Billy Beane. He has smartly created a lasting career by working with some of the best directors around — he calls himself a “director whore” — and has become a first-class producer in the process. He sat for a wide-ranging conversation with Deadline Awards Columnist Pete Hammond that took place a few days after he learned of his multiple Oscar nominations.

AWARDSLINE: What was it about Moneyball that you knew, you just had to make this movie?
PITT: These guys (the Oakland A’s) are trying to survive in an unfair game, going up against conventional wisdom, starting from scratch and asking the questions “Why do we do what we do? Does it still make sense to us? Because we thought it made sense 100 years ago.” It’s a story of value, our own self-worth and this individual’s (Billy Beane) search for his own value in the process. It was such a relevant story for our time. I really hooked into it. Unconventional, difficult and unique and yet at the same time it had these undertones of what I loved in ’70s films. I put two years into this project and it went away and then put another year into it and it went away and I just couldn’t stand to see that happen on this one again. And Amy (Pascal, co-chairmen of Sony Pictures Entertainment) stuck with this: She is our patron saint at the end of the day. ’Cause she doubled down at a big risk. Read More »

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Oscar Q&A: Rachael Horovitz And Michael De Luca On ‘Moneyball’s Path To The Screen

By | Tuesday February 7, 2012 @ 10:41am PST

Although it had a troubled history with original director Steven Soderbergh leaving just days before production was to start, Moneyball is the classic example of producers saying “never say die.” That is certainly the case with Rachael Horovitz, who originally optioned the Michael Lewis book Moneyball: The Art Of Winning An Unfair Game, which dealt with Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane’s attempts to put together a successful team using unorthodox methods and a miniscule budget. Horovitz, a former VP at Fine Line Features and an exec at Revolution Studios, won an Emmy and Golden Globe for her company Specialty Films’ maiden voyage, Grey Gardens, and was bound and determined to make this movie happen. Eventually Sony got into a bidding war with Warner Bros and brought in Horovitz’s former New Line colleague Michael De Luca to co-produce. De Luca — New Line and DreamWorks’ former production head and now a successful producer of films like The Social Network, 21, Ghost Rider and the upcoming Butter and The Sitter – helped shape the film before Soderbergh’s exit and remained a strong force afterward when his Social Network colleague Scott Rudin came on board. Horovitz and De Luca talked to Deadline Awards Columnist Pete Hammond about the many curveballs Moneyball faced on its way to the screen — and six Oscar nominations including Best Picture and Best Actor for Brad Pitt.

AWARDSLINE: Rachael, you started this project, you optioned the book. Tell me how this came about.
HOROVITZ: The book had terrific heart. I felt that (the role of) Billy Beane would be great for an actor, and that the human story of the material was relatable. I was certain that the rights wouldn’t be available and they were. So, stunned, I took a shot at trying to set it up and discovered that all of the studios passed on it. So then I went back to the drawing board and came up with a pitch and set it up at Sony. Mike was just moving over from DreamWorks to being a producer at Sony and we had worked together at New Line. Read More »

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Brad Pitt On Negative Oscar Campaigning, Alternative Way For Awarding Actor Trophy

By | Thursday February 2, 2012 @ 8:48am PST
Nellie Andreeva

Brad Pitt was on the Daily Show With Jon Stewart last night talking about his movie Moneyball, which landed him two Oscar nominations: for best picture as a producer and best actor for playing the lead, Billy Beane. The conversation turned to Oscar campaigning when the host suggested, “Why don’t they go negative on other movies? The Oscar race is always ‘For Your Consideration — Moneyball. “But why not like, ‘The Artist — Go F–k Yourself!’ Why not go negative on this guy?”

Pitt played along. “I thought about it,” he said before employing a GOP primary race analogy. “Clooney took Iowa, New Hampshire. Jean took South Carolina. Florida will probably go to Oldman. I’m gonna be hanging out with Ron Paul, so I gotta get in there and mix it up a bit I think.” In the best actor category, Pitt faces Jean Dujardin (The Artist), George Clooney (The Descendants), Gary Goldman (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) and Demian Bichir (A Better Life). Pitt also proposed an alternative way for determining the Oscar winner, taken straight from a reality show. “You know what I think they should do,” he said. “I think we should just put a trophy on the table and like one of those car contests, and we should all just put our hands on it and see who can hold it the longest.” Video below (the Oscar portion starts 6 minutes in.)

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Australian Academy Of Cinema Names First International Awards Nominees

Mike Fleming

The Australian Academy of Cinema and Television, which previously honored Aussie productions, has launched five new award categories that will recognize international product in Best Film, Best Direction, Best Screenplay, Best Actor and Best Actress. In other words, the Aussies are going Hollywood. The nominees were announced tonight by Jacki Weaver, the Aussie actress who was Oscar nominated for Animal Kingdom. I am not sure how these will factor into the Oscar conversation, but here are the nominees:

INAUGURAL AACTA INTERNATIONAL AWARDS NOMINEES

BEST FILM

The Artist – Thomas Langmann (The Weinstein Company)

The Descendants - Jim Burke, Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Hugo – Graham King, Tim Headington, Martin Scorsese, Johnny Depp (Paramount Pictures)

The Ides of March – George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Brian Oliver (Columbia Pictures)

Margin Call - Robert Ogden Barnum, Michael Benaroya, Neal Dodson, Joe Jenckes, Corey Moosa, Zachary Quinto (Roadside Attractions)

Melancholia – Meta Louise Foldager, Louise Vesth (Magnolia Pictures)

Midnight In Paris – Letty Aronson, Stephen Tenenbaum, Jaume Roures (Sony Pictures Classics)

Moneyball - Michael De Luca, Rachael Horovitz, Brad Pitt (Columbia Pictures)

The Tree of Life – Bill Pohlad, Dede Gardner, Sarah Green (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

We Need to Talk About Kevin – Jennifer Fox, Luc Roeg, Bob Salerno (Oscilloscope Pictures)
Read More »

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OSCARS: Producer Scott Rudin Talks Critics Awards, Salander, His ‘Jeopardy’ Discovery And Why A Non-Baseball Fan Relates To ‘Moneyball’

Mike Fleming

EXCLUSIVE: We are in the thick of the awards season, a time of year when at least one film produced by Scott Rudin is usually in the conversation. Last year, he was producer of two Best Picture nominees, The Social Network and True Grit. This year, he’s got three in the mix. There’s Moneyball, the 9/11-themed Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. All this happened in a year when Rudin closed his Hollywood office and formally moved his producing deal to Sony Pictures (where he produced The Social Network and joined producers Michael De Luca, Rachael Horovitz and Brad Pitt in reconfiguring Moneyball). None of that impeded his output and when Rudin took time out for Deadline and what will likely be his only Oscar season Q&A, he pulled himself away from new films he’s making with the Coen Brothers, Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach. That is a lot of activity for any producer — and Rudin separately generates as many Broadway shows as he does films — but it’s a pace the New York-based producer is comfortable handling.

AWARDSLINE: Much was written about The New Yorker reviewer David Denby breaking an embargo that New York film critic voters agreed to abide by when they saw The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for the purposes of voting for their annual awards. Now, he wrote a positive review…
RUDIN: That wasn’t the issue.

AWARDSLINE: Why did it trouble you so much?
RUDIN: Because you want reviews timed to the release of the movie when they can sell tickets. Having reviews break earlier…I mean, our campaign is calibrated very carefully around closing the campaign with the release of the film. You want reviews to cume the week the movie’s opening and not a month before when they do you absolutely no good. What also concerned me was if he broke the embargo there was a decent chance other people would. It turned out that other people felt such scorn for him that nobody else did, which was kind of remarkable.

AWARDSLINE: Was it more about giving your word and not keeping it?
RUDIN: Keep your word or don’t come to the movie. It’s totally fine to say I’m not going to honor a review embargo, but you have to give me and the studio the right to say, don’t come see it. You don’t put in writing a commitment not to review until a certain date and then review it anyway because you don’t want to write about other movies that you don’t think are serious enough for you. It’s incredibly disingenuous.

AWARDSLINE: All this happened because the New York film critics moved up their deadline two weeks to be first. How valid are these lists when a late entry like Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close aren’t even considered?
RUDIN: I can only answer in relation to my stuff. I mean, in the case of the New York critics, they set a deadline that was literally a day ahead of when we would be able to screen Dragon Tattoo. We were perfectly fine not screening for them, but they came to us and said they wanted to move the date by a day to include us. Because we had won it last year on Social Network, we felt we kind of owed it to them. It seemed churlish not to let them see the movie if they moved the date. We didn’t ask them to move the date; they came to us. And then I got a bunch of nasty emails from John Anderson saying, why didn’t you ask us to move the date on Extremely Loud? The whole thing seemed so ridiculous. They were all trying to get ahead of each other. Honestly, I don’t think it has hurt Extremely Loud one iota not to have been seen by the couple of groups that didn’t see it. In the end, it’s all opinion anyway. It’s great when you win those things but not great enough that you wouldn’t finish a movie well. Those critics awards come and go every year, but the finished movie is your work. I would love to have finished Extremely Loud two weeks earlier and screened it for everybody. It just wasn’t done. And the same was true with Dragon Tattoo. These were big ambitious movies that were on very very tight finishing schedules and we just couldn’t do it.

AWARDSLINE: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo deal seemed to take forever. It was obviously complicated by the fact that Stieg Larsson had passed away. What was the biggest challenge for you in pulling the rights together on the series?
RUDIN: The big issue on it was that the book was still growing in popularity, so it was hard to figure out, honestly, what a fair deal was. We’d start to make it a deal, you’d turn around and the book has sold 5 million more copies and suddenly it’s worth more. It just took a long time.

AWARDSLINE: How long?
RUDIN: Almost a year and a half. When we started to negotiate we didn’t know there were Swedish movies. Nobody told us, I had no idea. Honestly, we started out buying movie rights and it turned out we were buying remake rights. We got way down the road before anybody said, “Oh, by the way, these were made.”

AWARDSLINE: Did that make you think twice?
RUDIN: No. I think the first one especially was good and entertaining. But Amy Pascal and Michael Lynton and I felt like Lisbeth is such an astonishing character, she could go as long as you wanted her to go. So, making it a big superstar director version of it always felt like a great idea and that a Swedish language version wasn’t going to hurt it all. In fact, would probably help it. Read More »

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USC’s Scripter Awards Unveils Nominees

By | Thursday January 12, 2012 @ 11:10am PST

The USC Scripter Awards, which recognize the writers behind the year’s best adapted screenplays along with the author of the original work, announced nominees for its 24th edition. The winner will be announced at a black-tie ceremony February 18, when Paul Haggis will also be honored with the Literary Achievement Award. The five finalists:

A Dangerous Method (screenwriter Christopher Hampton, adapted from on John Kerr’s nonfiction book A Most Dangerous Method: The Story of Jung, Freud, and Sabina Spielrein and the 2002 stage play The Talking Cure by Hampton)

The Descendants (screenwriters Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, adapted from Kaui Hart Hemmings’ novel The Minor Wars

Jane Eyre (screenwriter Moira Buffini, adapted from the 1847 novel by Charlotte Brontë)

Moneyball (screenwriters Steven Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin and Stan Chervin, based on Michael Lewis’ book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game)

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (screenwriters Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan and author John le Carré)

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‘Final Destination 5′ Is First For UltraViolet In The UK; Will British Users Have Clearer Picture Than In The U.S.?

On December 26, Warner Bros’ Final Destination 5 will become the first UltraViolet-enabled title to be released in the UK via DVD, Blu-ray and Triple Play. From then on, all of the studio’s future home entertainment releases in the UK — including Happy Feet Two, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows and The Dark Knight Rises — will fall under the UltraViolet “buy once, play anywhere” scheme. As with its practice in the U.S., Warner will offer the streams via Flixster.

Warner Bros was the first to release UV titles in the U.S. back in October with Horrible Bosses and Green Lantern. Although I was told by a Warner UK spokesman that there is no industry evidence as yet on the impact of the added UltraViolet aspect, the Associated Press today reports that consumers of those earlier films found the system didn’t work as expected. Warner Bros UK spokeswoman Deborah Lincoln, who had not read the AP report but was aware of certain complaints, tells me the confusion was largely related to the fact that those first titles didn’t have download ability to certain devices — which she assured me was not going to be the case in the UK. In part, she said, the confusion may have come from early media reports regarding UltraViolet touting it as an anytime, anywhere technology for all devices including IOS — … Read More »

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Sony To Offer ‘Moneyball’ Via Digital Download Before DVD And Blu-ray

That’s the most interesting part of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment’s announcement today about its video plans for the movie starring Brad Pitt as Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane. Yes, it’s noteworthy that people who buy a Blu-ray disc will also be able to access digital streams of Moneyball from the industry’s new UltraViolet initiative. Sony’s a vocal supporter of that, and already offers the same online streaming deal for people who buy Blu-ray discs of Smurfs and Friends With Benefits. But Sony’s stood alone so far in selling digital downloads of movies before they hit the stores. Digital sales of Moneyball begin on December 22 while the discs come out on January 10 (DVDs will go for suggested retail price of $30.99 and Blu-ray for $35.99). That’s a longer window than Sony gave to its first two films that provided early digital downloads: Bad Teacher was sold online about two weeks ahead of discs in October. The second film, 30 Minutes Or Less, had a similar window in November. The studio liked the results. Sony says total digital revenues were 24% higher than comparable films released the same day as discs — and it saw no signs of cannibalization from VOD.

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Brad Pitt Gives Acting Career 3 More Years

By | Tuesday November 15, 2011 @ 12:23am PST

Brad Pitt dropped a bombshell in a Tokyo interview for the Australian 60 Minutes. When interviewer Tara Brown asked the 47-year-old, “How much longer would you like to do your business for?” Pitt answered, “Three years.” She followed up with “Three years?” And he affirmed, “Yeah.” Brown continued, “And then what happens after three years?” To which Pitt responded, “Hell if I know. I am really enjoying the producing side and development of stories and putting those pieces together. And getting stories to the plate that might have had a tougher time otherwise.” For example, the movie he was promoting over there, Moneyball. There’s a good deal more that you can watch or read here, which is where everybody else got this and went crazy, but Deadline likes Brown’s question, “Do you get a lot of kudos making a film like this with your kids, a baseball film?” And Pitt’s answer: “I get more mileage with the zombie film,” referring to World War Z, directed by Marc Forster and targeted to open December 21, 2012 — just after Pitt turns 49.

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SNL: ‘Moneyball’ Sequel About ‘Tinyballs’

By | Saturday October 8, 2011 @ 11:17pm PDT

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‘Dolphin Tale’ Leaps ‘Moneyball’ To #1 But New Pics Weak: ’50/50′ #4, ‘Courageous’ #5, ‘Dream House’ #6, ‘What’s Your Number?’ #8

SUNDAY AM, 6TH UPDATE: Still on vacation in a different time zone. That’s why I’m overdue on some autopsy reports I promised and haven’t yet delivered. I’ll release them Sunday. My sincerest apologies. (Unfortunately, I can’t get used to a definition of ‘time off’ that still makes me toil almost 24/7.) That said, the newest numbers have changed the Top 10 order yet again. (It was another confused weekend like the last one!) This crop of four freshmen failed to make much of an impression with moviegoers because holdovers still ruled the North American box office. But overall the weekend is up +10% from last year:

1. Dolphin Tale (Alcon, Warner Bros) Week 2 [3,515 Theaters]
Friday $3.4M, Saturday $6.5M, Weekend $14.2M (-26%), Estimated Cume $37.5M

Terrific hold as Alcon uncorks another feel good favorite. Dolphin Tale was up 88% from Friday night thanks to the saturday matinee bump. Now it’s placing above both films it trailed last week. But the cume is still lagging. And DreamWorks Animation/Paramount just pushed up the release of Puss ‘N’ Boots to October 28th — which will deprive Dolphin Tale of an extra week of alone time with families.

2. Moneyball (Sony) Week 2 [2,993 Theaters]
Friday $3.8M, Saturday $5.5M, Weekend $12.5M (-36%), Estimated Cume $38.4M

Excellent hold especially for a 2-quadrant pic. But Moneyball‘s cume needs more beer and peanuts to fatten.

3. Lion King 3D (Disney) Week 3 [2,340 Theaters]
Friday $3.3M, Saturday $4.4M, Weekend $11M, Estimated Cume $79.6M

Very impressive, still, for this juiced up toon as all releases pass Disney/Pixar’s Finding Nemo to become the 4th highest-grossing animated film of all time worldwide. Snarked a rival studio exec, “I could have told them about that 2-weeks-only crap…” By the way, remind me to tell you about the months of meetings which Disney’s Frankeneisner led over the story problems posed by ‘lion cub incest’ for the sequel was released. Only on Dopey Drive…

4. 50/50 (Summit/Mandate) NEW [2,458 Theaters]
Friday $2.9M, Saturday $3.6M, Weekend $8.8M

The first thing to ponder about this male Terms Of Endearment is that James McAvoy was supposed to play the guy with cancer. Instead, Joseph Gordon-Levitt came in at the last minute. Now it’s hard to imagine this truthful dramedy starring anyone else. Levitt is really becoming one of the most interesting young actors around even if he’s not box office — yet. Summit Entertainment and Mandate Pictures gave 50/50 a surprisingly wide release this weekend: in the old days this pic would have been platformed so audiences could “find” it. But these days, with the skyrocketing costs of marketing, there’s simply no time or purpose to doing that anymore. (“It was always envisioned as a wide release picture as opposed to platform because of its playability,” an insider tells me.) Problem is, Summit thought the film would open around the low double-digits. Nope, despite an ‘A-’ CinemaScore from audiences. Summit says audience ratings & definite recommends were about 20 points above the norm, one of the
highest ever in the studio’s exit polling. More females (54%) came than males (46%). In terms of age demos: 83% were between the target audience of 18-49, 35% under 25, 57% under 30, 43% over 30. Studio sources claim the film’s negative cost is only $8 million. The question now is whether strong word of mouth will allow this pic to play for several weeks and end up with a decent cume.

As you must know by now, the screenwriter Will Reiser based the story in part on his own life, and filmmaker Jonathan Levine promoted not only the film and but also cancer awareness. Pre-release, 50/50 was tracking well with both male and females and with older and younger audiences showing interest. But the really downer disease just kept audiences away despite partnerships with national support groups like Stand Up To Cancer and Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong as well as regional orgs. Marketing-wise, the film at first was positioned as a broad Seth Rogen comedy (not another one!). But then the studio imbued it with the feel of a specialty film. TV buys focused on younger movie-goers first and then expanded to older males and females based on the evolved positioning. Summit began an extensive word-of-mouth screening program in early August and premiered it at the Toronto Film Festival to a standing ovation. Hey, don’t complain about Hollywood’s crappy movies if you won’t support the quality ones. I’m truly disappointed that this pic didn’t do better. It deserves to be seen.

5. Courageous (Sony) NEW [1,161 Theaters]
Friday $3.1M, Saturday $3.2M, Weekend $8.8M

This movie was Fireproof 2 — only substitute fatherhood problems for marriage woes, and law enforcement officers for firefighters. Like most of these faith-based films, Sherwood Pictures’ Courageous was front-loaded because of pre-sales and church groups bussed to theaters. But Sony initially expected a better opening weekend even though it was playing in only half as many locations as the other major studio releases. Still, it made the best per-screen average and rated a rare ‘A+’ CinemaScore across the board with men and women of all ages. Opening weekend exits show the audience was fairly balanced in gender (53% was female) and the reach had a slightly older skew (77% were aged 25+). These pics cost next-to-nuthin’ — Courageous made back its $2 million production budget in its first day of release. Sherwood Pictures is based in Albany, Georgia, where moviemaking ministry Sherwood Baptist Church churns out these inspirational films aimed at Christians. Sony Pictures’s secular TV media was concentrated in outlets like Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz, Hallmark Channel, TLC, Lifetime, and TV Land as well as more conservative-leaning outlets ranging from Fox News, CMT to Christian Broadcasting Network and Gospel Music Channel. The marketing budget was “modest and grassroots’. Like Fireproof (2008), Facing The Giants (2006), Flywheel (2003), the co-writers were Stephen Kendrick, who also produced, and Alex Kendrick, who also directed. They, along with producers Michael Catt and Jim McBride together make every movie decision at Sherwood where the four-man team also serve as pastors of the church. Fireproof opened as the No. 4 film in the nation this same time of year, eventually grossing $33 million theatrically. But it also starred former TV teen hearthrob Kirk Cameron, and Courageous was cast with unknowns.

6. Dream House (Morgan Creek/Universal) NEW [2,661 Theaters]
Friday $2.9M, Saturday $3.5M, Weekend $8.2M

Jim Robinson’s Morgan Creek shows yet again that it can’t make or market a movie to save its life. It can’t even handle publicity: MC’s morons apparently can’t find my email address because I’ve received nada from them about this opener. Then again the pic wasn’t screened in advance for critics — always an indicator of a stinker. Don’t blame Universal: it was just distributing Dream House. Morgan Creek paid for and did everything else. Badly. Directed by 6-time Oscar nominee Jim Sheridan and starring Daniel Craig, Naomi Watts, and Rachel Weisz, they all must have needed the payday because they’re way too major to do this critically-panned drivel from a script credited to David Loucka. Sheridan lived to regret it because he and the producers fought over final cut. No wonder none of the major stars publicized the pic. (FYI, Craig and Weisz met on location and later married…) Seriously, this derivative haunted house tale gives new meaning to the definition of derivative. Worst were those TV ads that stole scenes from The Shining. I think it’s high time that the distrusted and disliked Robinson switches professions and starts selling used cars instead of used movies.

7. Abduction (Lionsgate) Week 2 [3,118 Theaters]
Friday $1.7M, Saturday $2.5M, Weekend $5.6M (-48%), Estimated Cume $19.1M

You’ll be reading my mea culpa Sunday when I release my long autopsy report on this domestic bomb. (Though it’s foreign rollout is better so far.)

8. What’s Your Number? (Fox) NEW [3,002 Theaters]
Friday $2M, Saturday $2.1M, Weekend $5.6M

Anna Faris is the modern-day Goldie Hawn: it’s impossible not to like her. Unless you put her in a really lousy R-rated New Regency fully-financed movie like this that Fox surrounded with a muddled marketing campaign vascillating between a female-empowerment pic and a run-of-the-mill rom-com. Problem is, daters haven’t talked about their “number” since the mid-1980s when sexually-transmitted diseases were scaring the bejesus out of singles. Audiences gave What’s Your Number? a ‘B’ CinemaScore. Pic cost only $20M. Its cost to Anna’s career may be more. (I’d like to see Faris in that remake of Hawn’s Private Benjamin she was supposed to do for New Line. It earned Goldie a Best Actress Oscar nom.) Directed by Mark Mylod and produced by Beau Flynn and Tripp Vinson with screenplay credit given to Gabrielle Allan & Jennifer Crittenden, based on the book 20 Times A Lady by Karyn Bosnak.

9. Contagion (Warner Bros) Week 4 [2,744 Theaters]
Friday $1.4M, Saturday $2.3M, Weekend $5M, Estimated Cume $64.6M

Let’s just say I spent my first day of vacation getting three kinds of flu shots after seeing this movie.

10. Killer Elite (Open Road) Week 2 [2,986 Theaters]
Friday $1.5M (-57%), Saturday $2.1M, Weekend $4.8M, Estimated Cume $17.4M

I’m not letting Open Road off the hook on this dead fish, either. Autopsy report coming Sunday, too.

Read More »

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Football Dooms Three $20M September Pics

By | Monday September 26, 2011 @ 8:38am PDT

MONDAY AM, 8TH UPDATE: As a studio exec exclaimed to me this morning: “I guess there’s been a reason there has never been three $20 mil pics on a September weekend. Football!” Monday numbers show both Moneyball ($19.5M) and Dolphin Tale ($19.1M) missed the mark.

Weekend B.O. Brawl! ‘Lion King 3D’ Still #1, ‘Moneyball’ Edges ‘Dolphin Tale’ For #2, Twilighter Taylor Lautner’s ‘Abduction’ #4, De Niro/Statham/Owen’s ‘Killer Elite’ #5

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OSCARS: Academy Turns Out Crowd For ‘Moneyball’; But Is It Best Picture Worthy?

Pete Hammond

Take it with a grain of salt. But Saturday night’s “official” Academy member screening of Moneyball seemed to draw the most enthusiasm since last May’s packed Midnight In Paris. At least judging by several unsolicited responses emailed to me by Academy members in attendance. Of course it helped that the film came in a very respectable No. 2 at the box office this weekend with just over $20 million. One Acad member told me it was “as crowded as it gets.” While another wrote, “I just went to the Academy screening  of Moneyball, and it was packed! Pretty much filled besides a few random open seats.” The make-up of the Acad crowd was described as “older than usual, and a lot of new faces” and by another member in attendance as “definitely older than I would have expected. But there was great reaction throughout the film and big applause at the end for Brad and Jonah.” Another opined that “the lighter moments played well, which as you know is always telling. The few jokes were responded to well. There was warm applause at the end. But personally I gauge baseball movies by the emotional swelling I get in my throat at least once. I didn’t get that here.” Read More »

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Weekend B.O. Brawl! ‘Lion King 3D’ Still #1, ‘Moneyball’ Edges ‘Dolphin Tale’ For #2, Twilighter Taylor Lautner’s ‘Abduction’ #4, De Niro/Statham/Owen’s ‘Killer Elite’ #5

SUNDAY AM, 7TH UPDATE: I’m told this is the first time there are three $20 million pics on a September weekend. No wonder it’s been shifting like quicksand at the North American box office, with the Top 3 order changing and then changing again. Everyone agrees that Lion King 3D is now No. 1, but Moneyball and Dolphin Tale were neck-and-neck for No. 2 going into this morning. At first, Warner Bros had its Alcon Entertainment fish story ahead of Sony Pictures baseball tale — but only by $110,000. Nevertheless Sony and other studios and eventually Alcon have Moneyball ahead by as much as $500K. So I’m calling it for Moneyball. Friday night also had no clarity because of Rentrak hiccups during the day. Can’t we all just get along, especially when I’m on vacation?

1. Even Disney is surprised that its Lion King 3D is king of the jungle again in 2,330 theaters after its huge 1st-place finish last weekend. Rival studios tell me it got a boost Friday from the rain back East for a $6M Friday for an excellent hold. And another giant kiddie matinee bump on Saturday for $9.2M and on Sunday a projected $6.8M. That’s a $22.1M weekend and only a modest -30% decline from a week ago. This re-release can hit a cume of $61.6M by Monday. This is the first reissue to open #1 in 14 years. An interesting story is how Disney’s original release plan called for one weekend on 500 3D screens. Then, the studio saw the tracking for Dolphin Tale and decided to expand to two weekends on 1,500 3D screens, thus hogging most of the high-priced 3D venues. It was a shrewd targeted hit on Warner Bros, and probably cost Dolphin Tale at least $5M-$10M in box office. So here’s my question: Why is it that in all the promotional hype I’ve been sent by the studio, no one at Disney is thanking Jeffrey Katzenberg for micro-managing the original Lion King? C’mon, Mouse House, give credit where credit is due. Even if Jeffrey is a big pain in everyone’s ass.

2. Sony’s much-hyped newcomer Moneyball is now officially the best baseball-themed opening ever. (Not accounting for inflation or higher ticket prices, it beat Benchwarmers‘ $19.6M, The Rookie’s $16M, and A League Of Their Own‘s $13.7M.) It opened No. 1 Friday with $6.7M and then soared +24% to $8.3M Saturday from 2,993 theaters. (As a Sony exec told me, “$6 million would be great. $7 million amazing. $8 million would be a triumph.”) With that healthy adult bump, it scored a $20.7M weekend which is on target with the studio’s expectations. That solid number helps keep Brad Pitt’s star wattage shining and his awards chances climbing because of this well-reviewed male-centric sports movie that scored 94% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. (As Deadline Hollywood’s Awards columnist Pete Hammond opined out of the Toronto Film Festival: “This is a classic movie star role in the tradition of something that Robert Redford or Paul Newman would have done in their prime. He has never been better, and the movie is the best sports film since Bull Durham, a real triumph considering the long and winding road it took to get to the screen.”) Audiences really liked this pic: it received all A’s — male, female, young, old — from CinemaScore. By age, 36% were under 35 and 64% were over 35. But a rival studio exec points out that almost 60% of the audience was over age 50. Sony believes Moneyball could play strongly through the Fall generating a multiple that could very well exceed 4X and 5X its opening.

Marketing targeted adult moviegoers and was designed to appeal to both men and women. Call me sexist, but I thought targeting women was hopeless for a pic based on the true story of Billy Beane who rebuilt the Oakland A’s in 2002 through computer-driven statistical analysis long ignored by the baseball establishment. (This stuff makes my eyes glaze over…) But exit surveys showed the film was almost evenly split with 51% male and 49% female moviegoers. To build awareness among men, Sony had a strong presence in sports programming, especially baseball where the campaign kicked off during the MLB All-Star Game in July. Trailers aired on the MLB Network, while spots also ran in high-profile NFL games including the season opener. In recent weeks, Moneyball‘s presence was in MLB games across FOX, ESPN, and TBS and select NCAA football games. The TV campaign took advantage of primetime premieres and high-impact specials, including the Emmys and MTV’s VMAs. On cable, Moneyball had sneak peeks on Sons of Anarchy, Tosh.0, Conan and ESPN’s SportsCenter. To reach women, Sony bought spots on Dancing With the Stars and Glee while Pitt appeared on Ellen this week and was pretty much omnipresent as both producer and star.

Like most movies these days, Moneyball had a twisted and tortured history to the big screen. Michael Lewis wrote a great book, and producer Rachael Horovitz recognized the bones of a great movie. Initially, baseball freak Steven Soderbergh was involved but passed because of other commitments. Eventually Sony brought in producer Michael De Luca to join Horovitz and, 5 years later in 2009, Soderbergh was back to direct. But in a well-chrincled case of creative differences, the Oscar-winning director was jettisoned from the film just 72 hours before production was to begin when the studio changed its mind about his changes to Steven Zaillian’s adaptation. (Soderbergh’s primary addition included Reds-like testimonials from real-life players which mae it more like a documentary.) Studio chief Amy Pascal felt Soderbergh’s version wasn’t commercial enough and pulled the plug. Conventional wisdom had it that the pic was a goner. But Pitt stayed on board throughout and Pascal stuck with this project instead of taking a writedown. Funny how women are often seen as not knowing anything about sports, yet in this case it took two Hollywood females to push this one through. The project got back on track with executive producer Scott Rudin along with screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, who did a polish on Zaillian’s script (both get credit now). Pitt himself praises director Bennett Miller (an Oscar nod for Capote first-time out), who replaced Soderbergh and then had the vision to “crack” the film’s outsider/insider themes by making an unconventional film about them.

3. Incredibly close behind is Alcon Entertainment’s Dolphin Tale 3D distributed into 3,507 theaters by Warner Bros. It opened with $5.1M Friday and zoomed to $8.6M Saturday for a $20.2M weekend. Alcon expected the heartstrings-pulling pic to jump 60% on Saturday because of the family film bump. It did a staggering +70% more. Remember, it’s also playing in the most theaters. According to CinemaScores, parents and kids audiences are giving it an A+. The film now becomes the highest opening weekend for a live action film with an animal, passing Disney’s Eight Below. With its inspirational story, Warner Bros expected to own the family marketplace this weekend and give Moneyball a run for No. 1 this weekend. But no one anticipated the continued strength of Lion King 3D. The strategy for Dolphin Tale was to reach primarily parents and kids with this real-life story and fine ensemble cast. The studio devised a very long trailer campaign in order to get maximum exposure beginning in April and playing through the summer on everything from Rio to Cars 2. The TV strategy was robust, covering everything from kids cable in late summer before school started, through key season premieres such as Dancing With The Stars and Biggest Loser, to a wide array of sponsorships with Discovery, Teen Nick, Lifetime, Nation Geographic, Disney XD, MTV, and more. Warner Bros crafted an aggressive word-of-mouth screening program that involved 3 full rounds in the top 60 markets. Military and home schoolers were targeted as well as youth groups and other family-oriented orgs. The director and cast completed a 7-market PA tour that included a junket to accommodate Winter, the real-life star of the film who had her own live Winter-cam. Online, there was a first-time integration with the Spongebob Squarepants Facebook page given the sea theme.

4. Lionsgate’s Abduction in 3,118 theaters ended up with  $3.8M Friday but went up +21% Saturday for $4.6m and an $11.2M opening for the weekend. But I’ve just learned it’s #1 this weeknd in Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, and Colombia as it begins its day ad date foreign rollout. Through Sunday, Hollywood eyes have been focused on its star Taylor Lautner in his first leading man role in an action thriller because he’s been very much in demand — presumably because of his enormous Twi-hard fan base and aggressive promotion of his films – but not because of any solo box office which the 19-year-old has done yet. Yes, Tay-Tay received $5M for this pic which his production company also produced. Then again, I’ve learned that Lautner’s $36M-budget action thriller was outspent 4-to-1 in marketing dollars by both Sony and Warner Bros leading up to this weekend. (Shame on Lionsgate’s Jon Feltheimer for tying everyone’s hands even after powerless Alli Shearmur pleaded.) So the jury is still out on whether this Twilight kid can open an envelope, especially in as rotten a reviewed movie as this one was based on Shawn Christensen’s $1M spec script and directed by John Singleton. (“Silly” and “convoluted” were the words used most often to describe it.) Audiences didn’t think it was quite as bad as critics, giving it a B- CinemaScore. Lionsgate can’t seem to make a decent movie (Conan The Barbarian) or market one anymore (Warrior). Read More »

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Global Showbiz Briefs: India, Qatar, Spain

By | Wednesday September 21, 2011 @ 3:14am PDT

Rom-Com Zombies Lurching Into Bollywood Films
Indian filmmakers are dipping their creative toes into the zombie water, but with a light-hearted touch. Shaadi of the Dead (Wedding of the Dead) is about a zombie invasion at a Punjabi marriage ceremony. It’s set for release next year. Also in the works is Go Goa Gone, starring Saif Ali Khan, about a group of youngsters who fight the undead in the resort state of Goa. Shaadi of the Dead director Navdeep Singh is banking on the novelty value of the genre to attract younger Indian film audiences. “We feel this idea of a zombie film is very fresh,” he told AFP. “It is something that has never been tried in the Hindi film industry and so we feel it will work.”

Al-Jazeera Head Steps Down After WikiLeaks Link To U.S.
Qatar’s government has replaced Wadah Khanfar, the director-general of the Al-Jazeera satellite TV network, with a member of its own royal family. Khanfar’s resignation comes after eight years of revolutionizing the Middle East’s media landscape, but in the wake of a WikiLeaks controversy. A U.S. government cable uncovered last month suggests Khanfar agreed to “tone down” objectionable content and promised to “remove it over the subsequent two or three days.” Al-Jazeera has played a key role in the protest movements sweeping the Middle East, airing round-the-clock coverage of uprisings that brought down rulers in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya this year. The new chief is Sheikh Ahmed bin Jassim Al Thani, an executive at Qatargas. Read More »

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Toronto: Big Stars, Big Risks Hit Film Fest

Pete Hammond

Only at a film festival: I left a movie today in which the basic plotline had to do with a man trying to deal with his wife’s terminal cancer diagnosis and all the horrible things that entails. Afterward, the pic’s publicist comes up and asks how I liked it. ”Well, it was kind of depressing,” I said. To which she replied, “What exactly was depressing about it?” Spin, spin, spin. That’s what you get at film fests. At the more serious-minded Toronto Film Festival, though, things swung into high gear today. The big guns came into town, including the casts of Moneyball and The Ides of March which had back-to-back premieres Friday night. At the Soho House pre-party for the Ides premiere, I talked to Philip Seymour Hoffman, who stars in both films, and suggested he was probably the first actor in history who had to walk two red carpets almost simultaneously. Hoffman said he was about to collapse from having done junket interviews all day. Sony Pictures marketing honcho Marc Weinstock is shepherding both films and said it was his idea to do the back-to-back premieres after the festival came to him. When it rains, it pours — and after the heartbreak of seeing its frontrunner The Social Network succumb to the Weinsteins’ The King’s Speech at the last Oscars, Sony is taking any awards talk cautiously this time around. As studio head Amy Pascal told me, “It’s … Read More »

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Toronto: Brad Pitt, George Clooney Bring Sony Pictures Roaring Back Into Oscar Race

By | Thursday September 8, 2011 @ 10:50pm PDT
Pete Hammond

The film industry poured into town for the Toronto Film Festival’s Gala Opening Thursday night kickoff of Davis Guggenheim’s U2 movie, From the Sky Down. But the festival really got off and running earlier in the day, as least as far as Sony Pictures was concerned. The studio that could have had its first Best Picture Oscar win in more than two decades last year with The Social Network is serving notice that it is back in the race again this year with two potential Best Pic contenders. Both Brad Pitt’s Moneyball and George Clooney’s The Ides of March screened back-to-back in a theater packed with press and industry types this afternoon. This was in advance of the studio’s double gala premieres Friday night at the Roy Thomson Hall. That inevitably will provide a double dose of star power that film festival organizers can only dream of.

In the case of Moneyball, Sony is throwing its world premiere here. Bringing it to the screen was a tumultuous 8-year ride, but it was all worth it. You can definitely add Pitt to the growing list of Best Actor contenders and throw in Philip Seymour Hoffman and Jonah Hill as supporting possibilities. The film, based on Michael Lewis’ book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, is a baseball movie that even people who hate baseball might appreciate. It all started in 2003 when former New Line exec Rachael Horovitz tried to sell it to a studio but got no takers. Finally teaming with writer Stan Chervin (who gets a story credit), they threw a winning pitch, drawing fervent interest in 2004 from both Warners and Sony. They went with the latter and Amy Pascal, who I am told showed great passion for the project from day one.

Initially, baseball freak Steven Soderbergh was involved, but he had to pass because of other commitments, including another baseball-themed movie he had for George Clooney. Eventually Sony brought in producer Michael De Luca to join Horovitz and, five years later in 2009, Soderbergh was back to direct. But  in a well-detailed case of creative differences the Oscar-winning director was jettisoned from the film just 72 hours before production was to begin when the studio changed its mind about his changes to Steven Zaillian’s adaptation. His primary addition included Reds-like testimonials from real-life players. Pitt, knowing a good thing when he saw it, stayed on board throughout. The project really got back on track with executive producer Scott Rudin coming aboard along with screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, who did a polish on Zaillian’s script (both get credit now), and the hiring of Bennett Miller (Capote) to replace Soderbergh.

It’s easy to see why Pitt would want to stick with this role even after his friend and Ocean’s 11 director Soderbergh left (he moved on to direct Contagion, which hits theaters today). This is a classic movie star role in the tradition of something that Robert Redford or Paul Newman would have done in their prime. He has never been better, and the movie is the best sports film since Bull Durham, a real triumph considering the long and winding road it took to get to the screen. Read More »

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